Some nine year-old summer campers beat the Beach Metro News to an exclusive interview with Premier Kathleen Wynne last week.
Kids in the day camp at Community Centre 55 got to ask Wynne several questions when the premier dropped in on Wednesday, a day when Wynne also visited the new Chest Centre at Toronto East General Hospital and toured the riding with local MPP Arthur Potts.
After a few softball questions – Wynne said her favourite colour is turquoise and no, not everyone cheers wherever she goes – one camper threw a fast one.
“Is your job hard and confusing?”
Some days it is, said the premier, especially when money is tight.
Wynne’s visit to Centre 55 – a former police station turned community centre – comes at a time when her government is trying to promote such “community hubs” and avoid selling too many surplus public buildings into private hands.
Much of the focus has been on under used schools, which education minister Liz Sandals has said are costing Ontario about $1 billion a year.
In Toronto, the Toronto District School Board is reviewing 70 schools over the next three years. Some are expected to be declared surplus and sold.
On August 10, an advisory group appointed by Wynne submitted a report on how the provincial government can try and keep such properties public, whether as daycares, health clinics, non-profit offices, or other community-hub uses.
“This isn’t about never closing a school again, or never consolidating schools,” Wynne told Beach Metro News. “That would be unrealistic.”
“But what I want to make sure is that we do everything in our power to deliver services in the best way possible for kids and for communities, and that includes using public space much better.”
Back when she was a TDSB trustee, from 2000 to 2003, Wynne said she saw firsthand how cities and school boards often fail to collaborate on shared space.
But Wynne said there is also too much red tape at the provincial level that prevents new community hubs from starting.
“In some cases, you’ve just got a really imaginative, persistent person who has worked through all hurdles, and has made it work,” she said.
“It shouldn’t be that hard.”
Among the 28 recommendations in the community hubs report are calls for a better database of surplus public properties, a “community hubs” facilitator who works across six Ontario ministries, and subsidies for some community organizations that cannot afford the full market value of a surplus property.
Another recommendation is specific to school boards.
Under existing rules, when a school board has surplus property to sell, the board has to restrict the offer to other school boards for the first 90 days.
The report suggests keeping that schools-first priority, and doubling that restricted offer period to 180 days – a move that could help long-standing efforts by Toronto’s French-language boards to buy a surplus property for an East End high school.
“I can say, having been a member of a school board, sometimes school boards don’t work well together,” Wynne said.
“They don’t give each other notice, and they don’t make it easy to work together,” she added. “That has to change.”