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Tentative deal for UTS

December 5th, 2015 · No Comments

Private school to renew lease for 50 years

Parents and students are relieved that UTS will remain in the Bloor Street building it has called home since 1910 well into the foreseeable future. The lease also includes provisions for physical improvements to the building, heritage restoration, and the addition of a multi-use auditorium. Marielle Torrefranca, Gleaner News

Parents and students are relieved that UTS will remain in the Bloor Street building it has called home since 1910 well into the foreseeable future. The lease also includes provisions for physical improvements to the building, heritage restoration, and the addition of a multi-use auditorium. Marielle Torrefranca, Gleaner News

By Marielle Torrefranca

The University of Toronto Schools (UTS), an independent high school for high achievers, is staving off eviction after reaching a 50-year lease renewal agreement with the University of Toronto.

The deal is still dependent on the approval of U of T’s governing council and is expected to be discussed further on Dec. 15, said Jim Fleck, chair of UTS’s board of directors.

The lease includes provisions for physical improvements to the 105-year-old building, heritage restoration, and a new 700-seat multi-use auditorium. UTS would also contribute $1.5 million to the redevelopment of the university’s Robert Street playing field into an open air athletic field, said Scott Mabury, U of T’s vice-president, university operations.

While UTS would pay construction and operating costs, U of T would retain ownership of the land and is still actively planning to develop the rest of the site.

“The amount of work to date is more notional, so we can work at a project agreement [to] ensure the partnership and decision making moving forward,” said Mabury, explaining that these plans are still in their infancy and there has been very little work on detail.

“I can’t tell you what it’s going to look like yet, because nobody knows,” he added.

Fleck, who noted that they’ve still to find an architect, said that if the deal is finalized, the next step would be to lay out the construction plans. Depending on fundraising and building permits, redevelopments could start as soon as the summer of 2017.

“Whatever we do will respect the neighbourhood,” said Fleck. “I think we’ve always got along with everyone there and the surroundings [and we] hope to retain that positive relationship.”

This renewal is a change of course for the university. In 2011, U of T rejected a $48-million proposal to refurbish the affiliated high school and gave UTS a 10-year eviction notice, stating it would need to be out of its current location by 2021.

At that time, funding UTS was perceived as too big a financial burden for the university, said Fleck. “It’s certainly not part of their core strategy to help a high school.”

But UTS has now shown it can survive on its own, and the past three years of developing strategies and creating relationships with different parts of the university have been fruitful.

He explained that the school’s significant tuition fees ($23,590 for the 2015-16 academic year, with an enrolment fee of $2,500) provide the capital it needs to operate.

“We’re running a positive operation that is not in deficit,” said Fleck. “So we then sort of initiated a new conversation with the university – not only on the basis that we can support ourselves, but that we can make a major contribution to the mission of the university.”

For U of T, it was a matter of considering the value of the space occupied by UTS, and having shared access to the new and improved facilities was a large component of the conversation.

“We are receiving cash and receiving assets we will have access to, like the auditorium,” Mabury said. “I believe that both sides think we’ve come up with a pretty good fit.”

UTS has been calling the building on 371 Bloor St. W. home since 1910.

In light of the eviction notice in 2011, the board underwent an extensive search, but it was unable to find a viable alternate location, said Fleck.

UTS’s current location is one of the school’s key assets, said Ramona Rea, whose daughter Emily graduated last year.

In addition to being close to both major subway lines, being located on a university campus is appropriate for a university preparatory school, said Rea.

“Being on the university campus also brings that extra element of being amongst other kids that are at a higher academic level,” she said. “Having access to the [U of T] libraries is a big benefit.”

“[Emily] loved it,” Rea said of her daughter, who is now in her second year of a business program at McGill University. “I feel it was a great educational experience for her and she has just recently expressed the same thing — that she feels very well prepared for university.”

Notable UTS alumni include Mayor John Tory, former immigration minister Chris Alexander, and Olympian Laurie Graham.

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