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FROM THE ARCHIVES (SEPTEMBER 2016): A look back at one attempt to lease a local school

September 16th, 2016 · No Comments

TDSB reverses Essex Junior and Senior Public School decision after community uproar

PHOTO BY CLARA FEINSTEIN: The TDSB’s July 2005 attempt to lease Essex Jr. and Sr. Public School (above) backfired in the face of public outcry.

PHOTO BY CLARA FEINSTEIN: The TDSB’s July 2005 attempt to lease Essex Jr. and Sr. Public School (above) backfired in the face of public outcry.

This July 2005 article chronicling the Toronto District School Board’s (TDSB) decision to reverse its plan to lease an empty building at Essex Junior and Senior Public School reflects the challenges faced by municipal school boards that attempt to fund repair and maintenance costs by capitalizing excess space. Today, Essex is in critical condition with an FCI of 87.91.

By Christine Lumley

It only took a month for community members to shout down a TDSB decision to lease an empty building on Essex Junior and Senior Public School property to the Lycée Français de Toronto, a private institution.

The building, linked to the school’s main site by an enclosed bridge and used to house Hawthorne II Bilingual Alternative School Jr., has stood empty since the Conservative provincial government’s funding formula forced Essex and Hawthorne to operate under the same roof.

“It’s good that the neighbourhoods will have much more input in what happens to these buildings now. It will also set new patterns for discussions of public space in other wards,” said local trustee Chris Bolton (Ward 10, Trinity-Spadina) of the decision. He said he plans to chair a committee to examine space issues in the ward and determine how best to make use of the empty buildings.

“I want to be clear it’s not about the Lycée, per se,” said parent Jean Rajotte at a June 1 meeting on the issue, “but it’s sad to lose a public space that has been funded by the public for decades because of money problems. It would be great if we could find a more creative solution.”

Cassie Bell, whose four children attend Hawthorne, said the school had to turn away potential students this past September. She’s worried Hawthorne II will have to move if Essex needs more space in the future.

“It’s sad to lose a public space that has been funded by the public for decades because of money problems”—Jean Rajotte, parent

But the TDSB has compiled statistics showing the percentage of children aged five to 14 in Ward 10 has dropped 16.2 per cent since 1996. Twenty years ago, Essex had an all-time population high of 1,200 students. Now the two schools combined have 592 students, a decline the board attributes to escalating housing prices.

Indeed, when Hawthorne on Essex supervisor Elif Sommezocak suggested the extra space could be used to expand her currently full daycare centre, Sheila Penny, the TDSB’s executive superintendent for facilities services, replied that the Essex-Hawthorne II site is only 71 per cent utilized and space for the daycare could be found within its walls.

Other ideas for the space include having an artist in residence, leasing it as a constituency office, or using it for the TDSB’s teacher training programs. If the TDSB could not find a use for the space, however, many community members said they would prefer to see the building opened for public use.

It costs the TDSB $116,000 annually to maintain the empty building. If the TDSB leased the building, “the board could use that money to replace eight boilers in eight schools and replace windows in two schools per year,” noted Penny, adding, “with the money spent maintaining the empty building we could have hired two new janitors every year.”

The TDSB has been trying to lease the building for the past five years, as part of its policy to aggressively pursue potential tenants for empty buildings to generate revenue to support capital programs throughout the city. It began talking with the Lycée Français after failing to find a public sector organization for the building.

Penny pointed out that after the mayor’s office identified the neediest areas for the city (the Jane Street, Finch Avenue, south Etobicoke, and Scarborough neighbourhoods), the TDSB began to focus on spending its resources in those areas. Additionally, the study demonstrated the old City of Toronto’s needs are largely met.

“It was also an eye opener for me,” said trustee Patrick Rutledge (Ward 22, Scarborough) after the meeting, “that so many people in the old City of Toronto, where progressive thinking was always pointed to as a source of great pride, were in fact very parochial in their sentiments. People seemed very reluctant to see the system-wide impact of decisions.”

 

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Tags: Annex · History