The Toronto Catholic District School Board (TCDSB), without apparent reason, is rushing headlong towards an irreparable rupture with Toronto’s Italian Community. Who can predict the consequences?
Briefly, the TCDSB has embarked on a controversial project, conceived and fashioned behind closed doors by the Directors and Management of Villa Charities Inc (the umbrella organization which claims title to the Columbus Centre), keeping for years the affected community in the dark.
The Catholic School Board operates two schools on Playfair Ave: Regina Mundi and Dante Alighieri Academy. In 2011, they TCDSB secured an allocation of $32.8 million from the Provincial government to build a replacement school for Dante Alighieri Academy (built in 1976). It did so on an “urgent” need basis since [the Board] had described [the Academy] as “dilapidated”, and no longer viable.
Currently, the TCDSB owns 13 acres of land on the site that houses Regina Mundi (built in 1974) now judged ready for demolition because it too has been described as “decrepit”. Logic suggests that the new Dante Alighieri be reconstructed on the Regina Mundi site.
For some obscure, undeclared reason, the TCDSB entered into and agreement with Villa Charities Inc that goes something like this: the TCDSB buys a parcel of the land occupied by Columbus Centre and builds the new Dante Academy within which space a portion will be leased to the new Columbus Centre, now reduced to 45% of its current space.
As part of its development plan for the area, in January of 2017, Villa Charities Inc presented Toronto City Council with a request for amendments to the Official Plan so as to permit the construction of a school in an area currently zoned residential single family. The eastern parcel of the site, for which intentions are veiled from public scrutiny, is zoned to permit high rise condos.
When referred to North York Community Council for examination and decision on May 7, the NYCC decided to engage in public consultations as is demanded by the democratic and planning process.
The meeting took place at Yorkdale Secondary School, where an unanticipated 500 people assembled, the overwhelming majority of whom expressed opposition (with anger and rancor) to the project which had as a pre-condition the demolition of the Columbus Centre, an icon of the Italian Canadian Community to which the Corriere Canadese has provided significant coverage.
Almost immediately after the meeting, taking stock of the potential public scrutiny and likelihood of an impasse, Villa Charities Inc opted to appeal directly to the Ontario Municipal Board. Just to be clear, the OMB is an administrative, unelected tribunal with such an egregiously notorious reputation for indiscriminately siding with builders that the Provincial government passed legislation designed to defang it.
When the news of this manoeuvre, at first guarded jealously, became public, the Community’s ire erupted. Several delegations presented themselves to the TCDSB in order to request that it take a step back and answer several questions which remain unanswered.
1. Why did the TCDSB not utilize for 6 years the $32.8 million that the government had allocated for improvements to or reconstruction of Dante Alighieri?
2. Why did the TCDSB assent to the move by Villa Charities Inc to circumvent the Planning process and proceed directly to the OMB?
3. For what undeclared reasons is the TCDSB not rebuilding on the site of Regina Mundi which it will demolish?
4. Why is it contributing to the demolition of the Columbus Centre, built by the Italian Community one of the pillars of the Catholic School System?
5. Why is it ready to make itself an accomplice to a project that many find reprehensible and with overall murky objectives?
The TCDSB boasts a mission statement aiming to create “an inclusive community of instruction and learning that unites home, church and school and is rooted in the love of Christ”. With this project, Catholic School System like any other Developer, is creating division rancor and anger, coupled with a profound cynicism among Catholic ratepayers and the Italian Community by being complicit with Villa Charities in its appeal to the OMB.
The TCDSB is duty-bound to relay to Villa Charities Inc that the shared-use facility with Dante Alighieri cannot go forward and that the application leading to the OMB should be withdrawn.
Will it have the good sense to heed the Community’s wishes?