Bloordale Residents Push for More Input on Planned Community Hub
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Bloordale Residents Push for More Input on Planned Community Hub

A 30,000-square-foot community hub and a new secondary school are slated for the southwest corner of Bloor and Dufferin.

Houses in the Bloorcourt neighbourhood, photo by Julia Nathanson

Houses in the Bloorcourt neighbourhood, photo by Julia Nathanson

Andrea Nann is a homeowner in Toronto’s Bloordale neighbourhood and the parent of a Grade 12 student at Bloor Collegiate Institute. There’s a lot at stake in planning changes to her neighbourhood. Nann is a member of the Building a Better Bloordale Community Group, a collective of people concerned with the sale and redevelopment of Toronto District School Board property at the southwest corner of Bloor Street West and Dufferin Street.

A 30,000-square-foot community hub with a licensed child-care centre, as well as a new secondary school, is slated for the site. Ontario’s provincial government has also committed $20 million to the project. Last month, the City, Province, and the TDSB announced that Capital Developments purchased for $121.5 million the 7.3-acre site that was declared surplus by the TDSB in 2013.

Several schools in addition to Bloor CI used to operate on the site, but Kent Senior Public School closed in 2012 after the Board of Trustees voted in June 2010 to shut it down due to decreasing enrolment in the area. Brockton High School has been closed since 1995, but the building has been leased by many organizations over the years, including the TDSB’s Aboriginal Education Centre, the Royal Conservatory of Music, and non-profit food security organization FoodShare. About 900 students from Bloor CI and Alpha II Senior Alternative School—which currently operate under the same roof—will relocate to a new secondary school when it’s built.

Nann said members of her community group have been meeting regularly since November 2014, when the TDSB announced plans to sell the public land at Bloor and Dufferin.

While her son will graduate from Bloor CI before the new development is underway, Nann said the project is important for future students.

“We’re not looking at hub versus school, we’re looking hub and school,” she said. “The community hub is a really important piece.”

Among the many concerns of Building a Better Bloordale is that the community has input on the planning, zoning, and design process for the new development. They also want to ensure that in addition to the space designated for the community hub, the redevelopment includes community benefits such as affordable housing, green space, and daycare spaces.

A special facilitator has been hired by the City to “gather input from local community residents and stakeholders in order to develop a process that will guide the structure of the community hub.”

Nann said the community wants to make sure they’re involved in the consultation “every step of the way.”

“The community also includes the students who attend the school, the teachers, and the staff that are there … there has to be transparency and opportunity for people to contribute to the conversation so that people’s needs can be heard, and there’s a commitment to implement the vision the community then comes up with,” she said.

“And that’s a big piece that’s missing. They’re doing community consultations at various stages, but we don’t know right now what the commitment is to implementing the community vision that is presented to them.”

Nann said there was supposed to be a community consultation with the developer in January, but the community still hasn’t been given a date, with the month almost over.

“Since the announcement in December, there hasn’t been one,” she said.

As for the existing public lands, Nann’s group wants to make sure that the new school will upgrade and improve student experience for both Bloor CI and Alpha II— the schools have distinct learning philosophies and require different kinds of space. Building a Better Bloordale also wants assurance that a safe and optimal learning environment will be consistently provided for students during demolition and construction of the new school.

“[The schools] both need to be considered when a transition process or place is being recommended, and also when the new school is being designed,” Nann said. “This idea of either upgrading and improving student experience doesn’t look like one thing.”

The new school is expected to have an estimated cost of $30-$35 million. TDSB Ward 9 Trustee Marit Stiles says the Province has given the TDSB approval to spend their own capital to build a new school. The Province previously committed $12 million to help with school renovations.

Stiles said the community hub consultants have had three information sessions for people or organizations interested in applying to be part of the visioning group to define the community hub. They’ve also met with her and some other key stakeholders.

Choosing a vision

In April 2015, the TDSB approved Stiles’s and the Toronto Lands Corporation’s request “that the concept of integrating a community hub as part of the site disposition be pursued.”

The concept of a hub serving as benefit to the residents and school also received support from the community at a public meeting in June 2015.

A working group was then developed by the TDSB, City, Province, and TLC to determine ways of including a community hub in the TLC’s redevelopment proposal.

Stiles said conversations about different options went on for about six months, until a successful bidder was chosen.

“I was a community member who was going to some of those meetings and decided that we wanted to see, once I got elected [to the TDSB], whether or not we could do something different [at the Bloor-Dufferin site],” she said. “We ended up bringing in the Province as well, which was tough, because the Province wasn’t really at the point yet of knowing what they wanted to do with the community hub concept. There’s still a lot of work to do to put the meat on those bones.”

Stiles got the TDSB to temporarily pause the sale so that she, the TLC, and TDSB staff could look at alternatives.

“We were looking at the small amount of money that the Province had allowed us to spend as a board to renovate the Brockton site—it was going to mean a very minimal renovation,” Stiles said.

“Here we were going to have this incredible new development potentially happening next door, and where were our students going to end up? And what is our legacy, then, as a school board, to those students and to the community?”

That’s when Stiles went back to the Province to see if spending more money to build a high school would be approved. Originally, they were given only $12 million from the Province and $8 million from TDSB for the renovations.

Ontario Ministry of Education spokesperson Heather Irwin said that the Ontario government and the City of Toronto jointly started a process in December 2016 to identify interested non-profit and charitable community organizations to collaboratively develop framework for the community hub.

Irwin said the submission process closed on January 16 and the Province and City are now reviewing the submissions.

“Once selected, the Visioning Group will meet to develop a vision for the community hub and the facilitator will document and leverage the lessons learned in a final report to support other communities across the province in their development processes,” Irwin said. “Construction for the entire site is not expected to begin until 2018, after all relevant planning and City building requirements have been met.”

While the community is losing two former school buildings, a school field and a few tennis courts, Stiles said she doesn’t think schools will become more vulnerable when it comes to more community hubs being built in other areas.

“As a local trustee, what I am going to be looking for is something in that community hub that will also connect, potentially, back to the students,” she said. “What’s heartbreaking in this is we will never, as a board, be able to buy back that land in the future if we need it … which is why I think that what we’ve managed to do here is so important.”

Councillor Ana Bailao (Ward 18, Davenport) said the City knew that there were many needs in the community, and it didn’t make sense for the TLC to put up a piece of land for sale without addressing any of these issues.

“The City will be pushing through our own planning process that there is affordable housing built on the site,” she said. “The site is not going to be 100 per cent affordable housing,” she added.

As for the new school, students, parents, and staff are expected to share their input when it comes to the design work. A plan on timing and relocation options is being developed by the TDSB on the movement of students and staff from Bloor CI when construction begins.

TDSB trustee Stiles said she is working to include the community in the design and plans. She said she doesn’t anticipate relocating students until the new building is ready.

Using resources more efficiently

Between 1998 and 2013, 30 buildings in Toronto were shut down as operating schools.

There are 23,232 repairs identified in 588 schools under the TDSB’s Renewal Needs Backlog, which have a value of about $3.4 billion. According to a TDSB news release, that number could grow to an estimated $4.7 billion in 2018 “without adequate short and long-term funding for school repairs.”

The TDSB says that the repair backlog has grown due to inadequate provincial funding, but after recent additional funding, the school board is investing $579 million in school repairs from September 2015 to August 2017.

Krista Wylie is a co-founder of public school infrastructure advocacy group Fix Our Schools. She recalls her son telling her about a class science experiment at Runnymede Public School a few winters ago, where they determined that the temperature of their classroom was 12 C. That, Wylie said, explained why students and teachers had been wearing their winter coats inside the classroom for more than a week.

Wylie said the long-term hope is that community hubs, like the one planned for the Bloor and Dufferin site, can help make more efficient use of TDSB resources. That could free up funds to repair older schools, and better serve student needs.

It is expected that Ontario will make a $1.1-billion investment to repair and renew schools across the province, which builds on $1.6 billion in existing funding that been assigned for repairs and renewals over the next two school years, for a total of $2.7 billion.

With the funding, the school board would be able to address a backlog of capital repairs, including repairing roofs, updating HVAC units, and modernizing electrical and plumbing systems. It will also improve flooring, walls, ceilings, and playing fields.

The investment represents an increase in funding for elementary and secondary school renewal of $500 million for the 2015-16 school year and $575 million for the 2016-17 school year.

More than $2.5 billion in capital funding has been provided for school boards by the Ministry of Education since 2013 to support 311 new schools and additions. The Ontario government has invested $16.3 billion in capital funding for school boards to support almost 810 new schools and more than 780 additions and renovations.