Community guaranteed free access to track during off-school hours
By Annemarie Brissenden
The field at Central Technical School may be fallow no more.
It’s been almost 18 months since the field at Central Tech was fenced off due to contamination in the soil while local residents’ associations and the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) battled over whether to hire Razor Management Inc., a private management company, to replace the field, install a seasonal dome, and manage the site for the next 20 years.
But the parties came to a mediated agreement that was verbally approved by the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) on Mar. 23, and the field may be reopened by September.
“I’m very pleased that we’re finally reaching a conclusion in this whole journey,” said Helen Zhou, Central Tech’s student council president, who is also a member of the Friends and Neighbours of Central Tech, one of the parties involved in the deliberations at the OMB.
A man who says he prefers building community facilities to accruing lawyer’s fees because he likes seeing people active, Matthew Raizenne of Razor Management Inc. has a “good feeling” about the agreement.
“Everyone got most of what they wanted,” he said.
Under the terms of the agreement, the private company will install a new artificial turf football field and a new 400-metre rubberized running track, and manage the facility. For no longer than six months a year, it will also erect a seasonal dome, which will be no larger than 44.2 metres long, 65.5 metres wide, and 18 metres high. This is significantly smaller than the size of the dome under Razor Management’s original proposal, and will no longer include the running track. There are provisions for free community access to the facility outside of school hours, with the track being available at least 98 per cent of the time during those periods. Dogs and other pets will not be allowed on the field.
A Facility Management and Community Liaison Team has also been established to approve regional tournaments, have input on programming for user groups, and resolve operational issues, especially those, like parking and traffic, which may impact the community. Finally, Razor Management will work with the TDSB to run a local program for youth served by a neighbourhood agency, and make an annual donation in support of a community swim program at Central Tech.
“There’s been a transformation in the proposal, which [now] gives the neighbourhood access and structure for oversight,” said Sue Dexter of the Harbord Village Residents’ Association, one of the parties involved in the mediation. “It’s apparent from the result that [Razor Management] was prepared to be responsive to the needs of the community…. There’s now quite a number of community benefits.”
Like many of the parties, Ausma Malik (Ward 10, Trinity-Spadina), the TDSB trustee who inherited the file when she was elected in October, said she’s “excited to move forward with something that everyone is happy with.”
Malik characterized the willingness of all parties to come to a resolution as encouraging. The lengthy process, she added, demonstrated that “community consultation is absolutely critical” given that the broader community sees schools as the heart of their neighbourhoods.
“It’s been a stark and critical lesson for me.”
Zhou said she is sympathetic to the concerns raised about the project—particularly noise and parking—but added, “at the same time, this is an issue that has been affecting students the most.” After all, the field has been closed for half of the time she’s spent at Central Tech.
Like Malik, Zhou has gained much from the process, which was initially “very confusing because a lot of information was held back from us. A lot of the discussions were between adults and the people in charge.” Everything became “less of a mystery.”
Although it may have seemed acrimonious at times, explained Neil Wright, chair of the Harbord Street Business Improvement Area (HSBIA), the “process was really about the entire community trying to put something there [at Central Tech] that would be good for students and the area.
“And over the course of time,” he said, “that is what happened.”
Wright said that the HSBIA views this as “a wonderful opportunity. It’s fantastic for the school and for the community. We want to have the community come together.”
Perhaps that’s the most important lesson for everyone involved, including Zhou, who said the experience has taught her a lot about how the community can work together towards a common goal.
Now that the parties have agreed, Raizenne can move ahead with getting the facility opened. In a “perfect world,” that would happen for Sept. 1. However, he warned, “there’s a lot of things that need to work in order to make that happen.”