TCDSB, losing sight of its mandate - again

di Joe Volpe del 5 February 2020

TORONTO - This too shall pass. It’s an old saying used often to encourage those facing troubled times. Another is that people don’t get the representatives they deserve; they get the ones they elect.

The combination makes for toxic decision-making, especially when it involves children and teen-agers and their haggard parents. Two former former Trustees for the TDSB would know. Parents who attended the “public consultation” at Loretto Abbey, January 30, 2020, have been in touch with them to complain about the process and purpose of the evening.

No one was allowed to enter the school; everything took place on the convent side of the Abbey (the chapel and some rooms for small discussion groups), because the convenor claimed to be hearing impaired.

The consultation was made necessary because the convenor/local TCDSB Trustee, one Maria Rizzo – recently replaced as Chair – “didn’t get the memo” on December 17, 2019 explaining that the environmental health conditions at the all-girls high school had reached such a critical stage that relocating the students to a “safer site” had become “urgent”.

Rizzo did indeed get the memo. By her own admission, she didn’t get around to reading it before the Board meeting on January 16, 2020. She was taken by surprise, she maintained, that the Administration would make the proposals for the relocation of students in four of her schools without giving her a chance to consult the school communities.

Have to start over, she insisted, much to the consternation of her colleagues and others who were made complicit in a cover-your-behind exercise called the “Loretto Abbey Renewal Project Consultation Plan” (LARPCP) on January 30.

Unless the Administration spends its time twiddling thumbs, the staff report on the conditions requiring relocation would have been generated while she was Chair. Some of those conditions are repeated in the report of the LARPCP posted on the Loretto Abbey High School website (updated Feb3).

They include what should be alarming references to the presence of asbestos everywhere in the “building’s entrails” of the school: plumbing, electrical, heating, ventilation and so on. Once the work begins on remediation, it is likely that the asbestos fibres and dust will be released into the immediate environment.

For this reason, health and safety protocols (TCDSB and those of public health jurisdictions) recommend strongly that the premises be vacated when work is undertaken. Asbestos is a proven human carcinogen.

The Canadian government was once an obstinate holdout in the face of the science that proved conclusively asbestos association with lung cancer and mesothelioma. It finally outlawed the mining of asbestos (2011) the production of downstream asbestos goods (2016) and the application of manufacturing products containing asbestos (2018). There are other legislative regulations assigning to federal and provincial governments the management of asbestos products already in the marketplace.

Government of Canada websites offer that “There are no significant health risks if asbestos fibres are enclosed or tightly bound, in good condition, and left undisturbed.” This will not be the case when work begins at the Abbey. The disruption may be brief since TCDSB o¦cials claim to be “reasonably confident that the work will be completed within 18 months …” Maybe, but doing the work during two summer months over a two-year span does not add up to 18 months.

Somehow, Rizzo and the Staff who presented at the LARPCP, under the apologetic supervision of Associate Director Koenig, convinced themselves, and the earnest souls who attended, that staying at the Abbey was a viable option to consider. The structure of the evening- calling for small “break-out groups” – wouldn’t have allowed for an informed decision on the potential risks.

The other options were/are (1) Nelson Boylen S.S. site (8.1 km to the west), capable of accommodating – with minor alterations – the entire student body, and (2) Tyndale (8.9 km to the north) but requiring that students be served in two separate campuses. The majority of parents in attendance – approximately 150 - voted “to stay put”.

Two employees from the City’s Planning Department commented rhetorically - but not for attribution – that knowing about the asbestos issue should be a disincentive to have their daughters at the school until remediation was complete. Yet, the TCDSB paid $25.48 million (plus additional non-monetary benefits) to the Loretto Sisters to acquire the Abbey in 2012. It and other interested buyers knew then about the asbestos problem. But, until now has chosen to do little, if anything.

How serious is this oversight? Producers of asbestos and asbestos products set up a $30 Billion Fund to mitigate the costs of the inevitable lawsuits once people exposed to their products seek relief in the Courts. One can’t help wondering how potential litigants will view TCDSB o¦cials in those liability issues.

Ah well, conducting proceedings in the confines of a chapel, where the environmental conditions spoken of above were out of sight and out of mind, would have had the effect of increasing faith.

Corriere reached out to the Board and Administration via email for comment. Only Trustee Di Giorgio responded.

It did likewise with the local MPP, Robyn Martin, who attended the meeting. It was important for her that decisions of such magnitude only take place after consulting the people affected.

The TCDSB will deliberate on the matter of relocation next February 13 and 20.


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