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NEWS: TDSB consults after community garden razed (Fall 2021)

November 11th, 2021 · No Comments

New plans and promises accompany hurt feelings

The once full community gardens along Palmerston Avenue Junior Public School now sit empty. MADELINE SMART/GLEANER NEWS

By Madeline Smart

On September 8, Trustee Chris Moise held a community meeting to address the abrupt razing of the Palmerston Avenue Junior Public School. The school and the TDSB faced major criticism from the community over the action, especially by those who volunteered countless hours maintaining and planting the garden over the 20 years it had stood. While sincere apologies were made and accountability was taken by Senior Facilities staff, the plans for the replanting of the garden fell short of what most community members were hoping for. 

The replanting of the community garden will be added into a large-scale master plan because Senior Facilities staff are already redesigning the outdoor space that childcare and kindergarten classes share. 

The school has also received other suggestions about how to use the grounds over the years, so they are taking the opportunity to redesign the entire site. This would mean that minor landscaping projects could take place in 2022 but any major ones will happen, at the earliest, in 2023 – and those will depend on available funding. Some community members expressed their concern that the garden’s progress and direction would be slowed down by bureaucracy. 

“We want restitution and we want the garden to be unhitched from the master plan,” said Howard Law, a former parent of the school and community member. Law commended the board for taking accountability and creating a process in which something like this wouldn’t happen again, but he and other volunteers of the garden were taken aback by this announcement of a master plan. 

“It kind of came out of left field,” he added. “I think there were some people that felt like our gardens were being railroaded into something else.”

Law says that adding the garden to a larger scale plan doesn’t provide the community with enough reassurance that it will be restored in a way that honours all the work people put into it over the years.

Richard Christie who led the meeting and works on the TDSB sustainability board encouraged any community members who wished to be involved in the master plan to connect with the school’s principal Rory Sullivan in order to become a community representative. He added that there will likely be three separate planning meetings regarding the master plan before any work will begin.

Christie also announced during the meeting, a new process of communication to ensure that nothing can be done to the garden without approval from the Senior Facilities managers and the Board’s team of landscape architects. This system will be implemented across all TDSB schools with community gardens.

“Moving forward, any work to be completed in this capacity will first be communicated with the school, providing them time for consultation with school/community groups involved, should there be further discussion/consultation about the scope or the work and what can/cannot be done,” wrote Principal Sullivan in an emailed statement following the meeting. 

“There were definitely lessons to be learned here,” Moise told the Gleaner. “We are in education and I think [we’re demonstrating] the ability to show our students that it’s okay to make mistakes. As a system I think we are recovering from this and we’re moving forward, hopefully with our community.”

The Board is committed to covering the full cost of replacing the garden but it seems that for many who spent so much of their time and energy working on the original, it hurts to start from scratch after over 20 years of effort.

“All that work, all that effort, all that money, all that coordination, all that community feeling, it’s hard not to get emotional about it, because it was something that was near and dear to a lot of us,” said Caroline Murphy during the question period of the meeting. Murphy is a former parent of the school and early volunteer with the garden.

Principal Sullivan also stated that they are working on establishing a steering committee to oversee the consultation process for the master plan. 

Law and other “community garden activists” have requested that the replanting of the community garden be disconnected from the master plan and start in April 2022. 

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Tags: Annex · News