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Groupthink, no dissenting voice = bad consequences

Groupthink, no dissenting voice = bad consequences

TORONTO – The Toronto Catholic District School Board (TCDSB) and Villa Charities seem more determined than ever to efface one of the most significant expressions of Italian Canadian contributions to integration and community development in this city, if not the province and beyond.
The TCDSB intends to demolish the Columbus Centre – come hell or high water.
In a Recommendation Report tabled by the Corporate Services, Strategic Planning and Property Committee (CSSPPC), dated February 9, 2016, Staff (it prepared the report after the Committee approvals) outlines a sorry tale of a public Body getting snookered by a “wolf in sheep’s clothing” – another not for profit [charitable] organization.
Why? Because there is money on the table. And more to come, if the demolition takes place and “frees up” the northeast corner of Lawrence and Dufferin for Condo development.
On September 1, 2011, the Ministry of Education (EDU) approved $32,818,951 “for a replacement school for Dante Alighieri Academy”. At the time, the Academy, built over a two-year period from 1974 to 1976, and expanded at least once a mere five years ago, was considered over-crowded at 1300 students. Today there are less than 900.
Villa Charities immediately “jumped on board” with a proposal for a “joint venture redevelopment” that would permit VCI “to replace their community centre and art gallery”.
Both combined to commission a Joint Feasibility Study (JFS) for the project at a cost of $285,000 +HST. The VCI half of the group was lead by the architectural firm owned by a former Columbus Centre Chairman.
The original location involved the property then, and currently, owned by the Daughters of St. Paul at 3022 Dufferin St.  The daughters of St Paul subsequently said thanks but no thanks, even though the CSSPPC approved $2,848,805.16 (HST included) for the services of Consultants for the project on the same 50/50 basis, with the former Chair of the Columbus Centre again heading the VCI interests.
On March 12, 2014, TCDSB formally approved a motion to abandon the Dufferin St site. Still, in March 2015, it “approved the release of funds to the approved architectural firm to begin the design process” for a location on the western part of Villa Charities land on Lawrence Ave.
Again in March 2015, TCDSB and VCI carried out a supplementary JFS to confirm the suitability of this location. The Consulting group was the same – CS&P Architects Inc with Pillon Architect and Global Architect. They invoiced, the joint venture partner (TCDSB and VCI) a further $291,717.88 (HST included) for “zoning by-law amendment service” determined necessary to proceed, but not included in the original project.
This apparently satisfies “the final requirement to proceed”. The Board did in fact did proceed on two fronts. On June 2, 2015 it acquired 3.15 acres of land and buildings from the Sisters of the Good Shepherd (the transfer of $18 million took place in January of 2017).
On June 8, 2015, now almost four years after the case for “upgrading” Dante Academy, the CSSPPC “approved the terms and conditions for acquiring a 3.467-acre portion” of Villa Charities land on the northwest corner of Lawrence bordering the backyards of Convent Court (reputedly for the purchase price of $22 million, although the deal is apparently not yet closed).
The TCDSB moved forward with the preparation of a Development Agreement that would include the “allocation of costs [between the two joint venture partners]… the terms of the cost sharing and liability and the process for reimbursement and dispute resolution”.
For “a few dollars more” the TCDSB will demolish an icon of the Italian Canadian community. The custodians of that icon, Villa Charities, have embarked on a Pontius Pilate exercise, denying the very existence of such a community – leaving (hopefully) the TCDSB with the full responsibility for its downfall. Or the Ministry of Education EDU can disallow the TCDSB’s use of Educational Development charges for the purposes of this project and even withdraw the funding. Altogether, the saving to the taxpayer is a combined $72 million. 
 
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Mar Sun ,2017