Community dismayed by lack of dialogue
By: Annemarie Brissenden
A packed standing-room only January 9 meeting on the future of Central Technical School’s (CTS) field laid bare the challenge of balancing student needs and community concerns. Local residents fear the Toronto District School Board’s (TDSB) plan to install a championship field and seasonal dome at the school will increase traffic and create additional parking woes in an already dense downtown neighbourhood, while CTS staff and students are eager to replace an aging and contaminated playing surface with a state-of-the-art facility. At times resembling a media circus, the meeting was attended by Mayor Rob Ford—greeted by raucous applause from the football and rugby players in the room—councillors Adam Vaughan (Ward 20, Trinity-Spadina) and Mike Layton (Ward 19, Trinity-Spadina), as well as Central Tech staff, students, alumni, community members, a large TDSB contingent, and Matthew Raizenne, CEO of Razor Management Inc. (RMI), the private company set to redevelop the field.Central Tech’s principal Sheryl Freeman explained that the field provides an extraordinary opportunity for the students, who use the school’s three athletics facilities full-time, every period, every day.
“We value this type of conversation,” said Freeman, noting that the school houses well over 2,000 students during the day, and close to that number at night in continuing education. “We are hearing about the impact on the community, [and the] concerns regarding parking and traffic.”
But some local residents said that the TDSB isn’t taking the potential impact of the new field on parking and traffic seriously. “I can’t get to my house now…I’m not quarreling with the concept, but don’t minimize that we’re going to have a huge problem with traffic,” said one speaker, to applause, while another added, “you haven’t put forward a single solution to the traffic problem.”
Tim Grant, speaking at the meeting, characterized Central Tech “as the school that never sleeps” adding, “the danger is that this is a project that’s going to make the neighbourhood unliveable.” The chair of the Harbord Village Residents’ Association (HVRA) said in a follow-up interview that he was disappointed with the tenor of the meeting, which seemed more like a cheerleading sales job than a community consultation or question and answer session. “My understanding is that a deal was signed a year ago, [they’re] just going through the motions,” he said.Or as Susan Dexter, HVRA board member, shouted at the meeting January 9, “We should be able to have a dialogue, rather than something that’s presented to us.”
That frustration, which underpins the reservations of those in the neighbourhood who oppose the installation of the field, seems to come from a critical question: who owns the field, and who, ultimately, is responsible for deciding what should be built there? Gordon E. Petch, a partner with Municipal Law Chambers, which has been retained to represent the TDSB in its application for two minor zoning variations, attempted to “clear up some misconceptions” during his presentation at the meeting.
“School board lands are private lands, not public open space,” said Petch, adding that public access to these lands should only occur under the auspices of a permit, for insurance reasons. Access can happen without a permit, he explained, but that’s only because it’s difficult to police on a regular basis.
Central Tech teacher Suzanne Shebib echoed Petch’s comments when she stood up “to gently remind everybody that CTS is a school and must serve its students first…. It bothers me that we’re putting issues like parking above the needs of our students.” And time and time again, the school’s students spoke up about the critical need to replace their rundown, booby-trapped field, rife with holes and dog leavings. “We are at one of the most used tracks in the city, one of the most used fields in the city,” said Raizenne. “All of you are here, all of you care, and that speaks volumes.” Raizenne, who is passionate about athletics, stressed that his company will be replacing the chain-link fence with an iron one similar to that at Varsity Stadium, and putting it behind the tree line, as recommended by the Bathurst Street Study. The site will be remediated, and the energy-efficient dome (up during the winter months, i.e. mid November to April) will be among the most environmentally friendly around. He added that he’s learned lessons on managing traffic and parking from the Monarch Park stadium, which he plans to implement at Central Tech.“I know there is a way to work together with the community,” he said in a follow-up email adding that “it was a great meeting and it was great to see all our city leaders out.”