Why Some Toronto Schools Are Being Expanded While Others Are Closing
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Why Some Toronto Schools Are Being Expanded While Others Are Closing

A handful of schools are being repaired with capital-projects funding.

Renovations are underway at several Toronto schools to create much-needed space for students. In two neighbourhoods, this means the construction of entirely new buildings.

George Webster Elementary School in East York is being replaced. The new building, with a price tag of approximately $21.1 million, is slated to open in September. A new building for Avondale Public School and Avondale Alternative Elementary School is scheduled to open in January 2018. This project, in North York, will cost an estimated $19.8 million.

But while some teachers, parents, and students wait for new school buildings, others are wishing for much-needed repairs to be complete. And unlike the two construction projects, there’s no end date in sight for these.

Schools in the Toronto District School Board need roughly $3.4 billion in repairs. This includes fixing heating and electrical systems and repairing walls, windows, and floors. The cost for repairs is a “moving number” that “fluctuates on a monthly basis,” says board spokesperson Ryan Bird.

The board has more than 580 schools. Some of these buildings are among the oldest schools in the province, Bird says. This leads to “quite extensive” repairs lists. Not all work happening at schools will fix that backlog.

Renovations at Hodgson Senior Public School, Courcelette Public School, Danforth Collegiate and Technical Institute, and Monarch Park Collegiate Institute are not directly related to that list.

The provincial government announced in October that it would be giving the TDSB a little more than $15 million for school renovations and additions. (The province made similar announcements for various regions across Ontario, including other school boards in the GTA.)

This money is not the same as the money the province gives the board every year for repairs, Bird says. The TDSB received additional money for repairs this year. The money promised in the October announcement is to go towards board-approved capital projects at Hodgson, Courcelette, Danforth, and Monarch Park.

The TDSB identified these projects as its top capital priorities in the last capital budget plan, released in June.

Hodgson and Courcelette were crowded. At Hodgson, 12 new classrooms need to be built. The school is changing from a Grade 7 and 8 school to a Grade 6 through 8 school. The new classrooms are to be ready for September 2017. The school’s name will change to Hodgson Middle School.

Courcelette needs more space. The new addition will fit almost 140 additional students in the Scarborough elementary school, according to the government’s October press release.

The renovations at Danforth and Monarch Park are considered one project, says Bird. They’re happening because of the board’s decision to close Greenwood Secondary School, an English-as-a-second-language school that’s specifically designed for new immigrants. Greenwood students weren’t pleased about this decision, as the Toronto Star reported earlier this year.

In March, the Star reported:

Mike Gallagher, the area superintendent, said the board is under orders from the provincial government “to make better use of our space.” As enrolment declines, that means “the status quo isn’t an option.” The committee, comprising representatives from all schools, met many times and held six public meetings.

However, unlike the other schools involved in the review, Greenwood is not under-enrolled — in fact, it is at almost the ideal 80 per cent capacity, with a small alternative school also housed in the building. Danforth, by comparison, is not even half full, at 41 per cent capacity.

Students from Greenwood will attend Danforth beginning this September. Greenwood was home to the School of Life Experience, an alternative school. That program will be moving into Monarch Park.

All the money the board will receive as a result of the announcement in October will go towards these projects, says Bird.

The board continues to rely on money from the province to “chip away” at the repairs backlog, he says.

Provincial guidelines [PDF] say money raised by schools cannot be used for school repairs because these are funded by provincial grants. Schools can use money they raise for things like improvements to playground or outdoor recreation equipment, or paying for class trips.