Ministry leaves board spinning wheels on crowding solutions

The garden seems to be thinking that spring is going to happen. The snowdrops are up and the crocuses starting, so perhaps it really is SPRING – but I am not taking my winter coat to the cleaners yet!

The TDSB is beset with crises, some of our own making and many because the Ministry of Education is trying to micro-manage all things educational.

Let’s start with something simple – enough classrooms for the students of this ward. We are well over 1,000 pupil places short for the kids we need to accommodate.  There are 22 elementary schools in our ward and over 70 portables – one school has 32, another 14, a few with four and some with none. The ministry has not allowed us to build except for a total of five classrooms in two schools – neither of these is George Webster, which needs 32 new classrooms.

Don’t forget that next fall we will have 10 schools that will double the size of their junior and senior kindergarten enrollment as a result of full day kindergarten, and that we are beginning to feel the result of the baby boomers having grandchildren. More classrooms will be necessary as they work their way through the system.

This month we were given permission to build at George Webster, but no money to build with. The ministry says we should sell more buildings. Sure, let’s do that. But when you empty a building to sell, there are students that need to be housed somewhere. Oops! There’s the problem. There is no permission to build an addition on the schools selected to put these children in.

It is as if kids come in nice little bundles of 25 that can be shipped to a new location and put in “this extra space.” There is no “extra” space. There are bits and pieces of space in disparate locations that do not add up to a proper location.

There seems to be no will to view the placement of children as an issue of housing people and not shipping widgets.

My case in point is right here in our ward. We did the ministry-prescribed process for the possible closing of two “small schools.” We took three months, held 10 meetings with all the people effected, drew up the results, sent it to the board for consideration and then sent it on to the ministry for consideration. We waited. We waited. We waited.

The answer was that instead of closing and selling the two small schools and putting necessary additions on the neighbouring schools, we should just let everything stay the same!

That was our position in the first place. It made the most sense. So why was it necessary to scare the pants off two neighbourhoods and leave them hanging for two years just to do what made the most sense in the first place?

AND we are still working with 32 portables at George Webster!

The approval to build is still not the final answer, nor even the final question. The next question is, will it be an addition or a tear-down and build new? Yes, you read correctly.  Tear down a perfectly sound building with amenities we will never see again – wide halls, large windows, fabulous, perfect terrazzo floors (no cracks), charm and character. And replace it with the bargain-basement-priced building that will have NO charm and will be a last-for-50-years version.

Maybe you can tell which choice I prefer.  To tear down a sound and serviceable building and put up a lesser version is environmentally, economically and morally wrong.  I have spent the best part of three years working on a solution to this dilemma. I want to do the right thing and not just what is a sentimental choice.

I now believe I have followed every last thread of enquiry to determine that an addition is the best option. There have been walk-throughs looking at condition; bore-holes to check what is underground that might be an obstacle; checking of costs for options – all the things one ought to do to get proper information for decision making.

The present building is sound. The roof has been replaced recently. The mechanics are solid. The windows need to be replaced for the final upgrade which will make the building environmentally snug.

It is my hope that we can design and build an environmentally responsible, attractive and flexible community asset with comfortable space that serves the needs of the teaching staff, the child care users, the community users and the children.

Most of all I want a building that makes sense on every level and for every use.

I actually believe that it is possible to build a comely building that looks like it belongs in its neighbourhood and is a joy to use …   that’s good design and good sense.


Sheila Cary-Meaghar is the trustee in Ward 16 for the Toronto District School Board

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