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Burlington Council Approves Report Analysis & Directs Staff to Return in 2023 with Policy for Acquiring Surplus School Sites

Council Approved - Surplus School Site Analysis - TW

Burlington City Council has directed staff to continue moving forward in creating a policy and strategy for acquiring former school sites that are deemed surplus by their school boards.

At our July 12 Council meeting, we received some analysis from staff and Dillon Consulting and SHS Consulting on how the City can go about acquiring and reusing former school sites, and we unanimously approved the below motion:

Direct the City Manager and the Executive Director of Legal Services and Corporation Counsel to consider and integrate Appendix A to community planning department report PL-53-22 titled “Supplemental Technical Memo: Acquisition and Re-use of Surplus School Sites” dated June 2022, prepared by Dillon Consulting and SHS Consulting and report back in Q2 2023 with a Strategic Land Policy that includes a municipal policy directive on surplus school sites which will inform the multi-year community investment plan.

Click here for the full staff report: PL-53-22 City of Burlington Housing Strategy – Surplus School Site Reuse Analysis; and here for the appendix: PL-53-22 Appendix A Supplemental Technical Memo.

The findings from the Supplemental Technical Memo: Acquisition and Re-use of Surplus School Sites (Appendix A) provides insights into how other municipalities and agencies have brought new life to underutilized lands through investments, partnerships, and collaboration. The work completes the first phase of work that highlights opportunities and constraints related to the successful re-use of surplus school sites in Ontario.

The findings will inform the second phase of work that will include the development of a proposed strategic land policy and decision-making framework to support transparency and investment in our community.


Former school sites are true community hubs and often act as meeting places for the public, both inside the schools and on the surrounding greenspace. I’m a big believer we should automatically purchase closed former school sites that have been closed by their school boards and offered for sale. By purchasing these sites, we control what happens there, and can work to preserve valued community amenities.

This work dovetails really nicely with work from the Burlington Lands Partnership and the three priorities we’ve outlined when we acquire land anywhere in the city: jobs, affordable housing and community amenities.

This strategy outlines a policy and vision so that once a school site is declared surplus, we can work quickly to acquire it. The purchase of the former Robert Bateman High School is an excellent example of what can be achieved — we will be bringing in a Brock University campus, preserving adult education, and retaining the pool, gym, library, outside track, and community meeting rooms for community use. I look forward to this policy coming back in 2023 for discussion and approval.

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The Technical Memo (Appendix A) was researched and prepared by Dillon and SHS Consulting that represents the first phase of work is divided into 6 sections:

  • Section 1 – Context
  • Section 2 – Policy and Legislative Context
  • Section 3 – Current Practice Review – including a summary of key findings
  • Section 4 – Provincial and Federal Funding Programs
  • Section 5 – Engagement Considerations
  • Section 6 – Next Steps

The key findings as a result of the current practice review are summarized in section 3.3:

  • Partnerships with developers are critical for delivering on affordable housing:
    • Some municipalities are willing to take on the development risk in advance of having partners lined up;
    • Public/private partnerships can help to leverage “big moves”; and,
    • Financial incentives may be needed to achieve below-market housing solutions.
  • Municipalities do not always need to purchase the site to get a positive outcome;
  • Thoughtful urban design can help to address compatibility concerns and there may be opportunities for heritage preservation;
    • Due to the timelines required under the Education Act to list properties, it is important for municipalities to have a vision for how they intend to approach opportunities before they emerge:
    • Ongoing dialogue with the school boards is recommended;
    • A municipal policy directive can establish priorities for surplus school site acquisition;
    • A long-term strategy can also provide a forward-looking analysis of opportunities and inform long term planning;

The Supplemental Technical Memo (Appendix A) supports a better understanding and a set of information related to three of the Actions identified in the City of Burlington’s Housing Strategy:

  • Action 1 – Clearly define the City’s role and responsibility in supporting a diversity of housing options that are attainable at all income levels The discussion and findings of the technical memo highlight distinct roles in the housing system and reinforce the key principle of the Housing Strategy to not duplicate the role of other organizations in the system but rather to identify opportunities to partner with others to achieve better outcomes.
  • Action 2 – Act as a connector and partner in the housing system by identifying opportunities to connect people and providers to resources and information related to meeting housing objectives. The discussion and findings of the technical memo share diverse partnership models and opportunities that could act as models for building relationships with other levels of government, non-profit organizations, and others.
  • Action 10 – Identify underused properties, including government owned and nongovernment owned sites that could be used for housing. The discussion and findings of the technical memo share successful examples of
    re-use of underused properties to provide new opportunities for housing.

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