Hon. Joe Volpe, Publisher
Money and the allure of acquiring more of it sometimes distorts vision and focus. It tests friendships, nurtures divisions, feeds the fires of unbridled self-interest and promotes language and vocabulary that blurs the line between “spin” and “fact”.
The proposed project envisioned by a private, for-profit developer that goes by the name of Villa Charities Inc (VCI) has an estimated retail market value of 1.2 to 1.5 billion dollars measured in today’s residential real estate market.
It’s unclear how the development of the properties held in trust for the community by a charitable not for profit organization could accomplish this without demolishing a building on Dufferin Street owned by the Daughters of St Paul or tearing down the church, St Charles Borromeo, or the Columbus Centre.
The ever-inventive Board of the community-minded Villa Charities were gifted with a potential partner (the Toronto Catholic District School Board) that would afford them public acquiescence, if not support, once both the Daughters of St. and the Cardinal proffered a “no thank you”.
The new partnership touted a shared-use facility to replace Dante Alighieri Academy and Columbus Centre, two icons now described variously as “unsuitable”, “dilapidated”, “old, worn down” and downright “decrepit”.
The first was built in 1975 and expanded twice since then. The latter, a structure that assumed its current shape only in 1980.
In 2011, the Ministry of Education “approved $32.8 million for a replacement school for Dante … as well as approval to enter into a shared-space partnership with VC for an educational and cultural arts facility…” The need, so the argument went, was urgent.
That was six years ago. TCDSB website and sources both indicate an enrollment decline at Dante of about 33%. A new facility projected by the TCDSB foresees accommodation for only 950 students, as opposed to the 1400 registered when circumstances were urgent.
Meanwhile, community and political hesitation as reached a deafening roar. In a letter dated June 16, 2017, the Minister, reminded the TCDSB that it “will require approval from the Ministry in order for the project to proceed to tender.” In the intervening six years since the first indication of the availability of the money on an “urgent” basis, the Board “has yet to seek such approval”, writes the Minister. Why not?
For greater clarity, the Minister advises that several concerns brought to her attention need to be addressed “before approval to proceed to tender is submitted”. TCDSB (represented by the soon to retire director, her recently appointed replacement and the Associate Director for the Plant and Business matters at the Board) met with VCI board members on June 20, 2017.
According to some present, the meeting prompted some blunt and “vigorous” debate. In the end, the TCDSB, notwithstanding the letter and the political firestorm in which it is embroiling itself, decided to “hunker down” and go along with the VCI appeal to the OMB. Why?