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A strategy run amok

September 9th, 2014 · No Comments

Once again the proposal to lease out the Central Tech field to a developer for twenty-one years has failed to clear a hurdle. School board officials took the unusual step of launching a legal challenge of a municipal by-law allowing the City to say whether or not the plan needed a special application. The court recently sided with the City.

So impoverished is the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) that it cannot maintain its Central Tech field, and yet it has seemingly endless re- sources to fund legal challenges to the City of Toronto’s right to consent to the commercial use of school lands.

It appears that the TDSB would like to be regarded as an island, and a sovereign one at that. It attempted in its recent Superior Court application to equate the renting of a gymnasium to Scout groups to the lease of an entire playfield (the Central Tech field) to a private company for 21 years. While in principle they are the same, in reality, orders of magnitude matter. The Scout group leaves no mark on the landscape, its impact is negligible, and the developer makes no apology for the significant impact of its plans. Fair-minded people disagree about whether or not the proposal is a good idea, but they all agree it is a big deal.

Somewhere along the way the school board’s plans to create a championship field at Central Tech got wed to a singular solution: (A) a private operator (Razor Management), (B) an artificial surface, and (C) a dome for use in winter months. The TDSB then put blinders on to all other possibilities. The Harbord Village Residents’ Association (HVRA) claims to have an anonymous donor who is willing to restore the field to a natural, playable surface. The school has not even replied to that offer.

In some respects, it’s a solution looking for a problem and it has driven the cart of the TDSB horse ever since. Perhaps ironically, when the board started to explore the dome plan, soil tests revealed that the field was contaminated and it was promptly padlocked. The time spent in thinking about this proposal has resulted in loss of use for everyone. There is much disagreement about what would be necessary to remediate the soil, as the results of the tests have not been revealed. The TDSB says it would cost $1,000,000 (a nice round number); the HVRA has a quote for $104,000. It’s impossible to know if the field is “unsafe” for natural use in its current form or not. What about the decades of use by previous high school students and community members; are they facing elevated health risks? The TDSB is silent on this.

The TDSB argues that the City’s by-law is vague when it comes to the commercial use of school board lands and that it lends too much potentially arbitrary decision-making to the City. The chief building official can decide which building application requires an application for a minor variance which invites community consultations, God forbid. The court ruled that the by-law worked as long as the parties acted reasonably, and the chief building official seems to have been “reasonable” according to the decision that this plan required a variance application. After an application for a dome at Monarch Park Collegiate, the community was consulted and the TDSB and developer were permitted to proceed. The TDSB wilfully participated in that process and got the result it wanted. This time around it did not, and now it questions the rules of the game.

This “you are not the boss of me” attitude from the TDSB to the City and to the community is juvenile and wasteful of public resources. Hope- fully, the students are not watching their schoolmasters.

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