Today I had a meeting with the TDSB Planning Department and Toronto City Planning to discuss the school capacity challenges in the Avondale area as well as at Earl Haig and McKee. We also discussed the future density in the Yonge/Steeles area. The objective of the meeting was to see if there would be any opportunities to collaborate towards building more capacity for students in Willowdale. MPP Stan Cho has said he would be supportive of any business cases submitted for our area.
The TDSB are creatures of the Province and get funding for new schools from the Ministry of Education through the Capital Priorities Program. This program provides a grant to all school boards in Ontario. School boards are required to submit business cases explaining how they meet the Province’s definition of ‘need’, school boards need to demonstrate that their existing schools are being utilized to full capacity, and that the only solution to address the school board’s needs is a new school.
The grant is offered on an irregular basis, there are limits on how many business cases each school board can submit, and regional differences are not taken into consideration. This means that the school boards that oversee a few towns in Ontario submit the same amount of business cases as the TDSB even though the TDSB serves more students.
Despite this limitation, TDSB staff were optimistic and often found creative solutions to address school needs in Willowdale and Toronto. Currently, the TDSB is building a smaller addition to Mckee Public School, building an extension at Hollywood PS and already built a bigger Avondale school as a result of making a business case to the Ministry of Education.
Click here to see an example of a business case submitted by the TDSB: 2021-22 Capital Priorities Program Business Case – Written Component
Here are the schools disccussed:
Oakburn (in the Avondale area) - Currently this school is used as a maintenance building. It serves an important function and in order to examine changing the use of that land, TDSB would have to find an alternate central location. The board is examining if the area with these potential uses:
middle schools (split from Avondale)
There would be two ways to fund this school - either through the Capital Grant funding which would require a measure of patience and uncertainty. Alternatively, the new school could be funded by building a podium school. The TDSB planning staff will be determining need towards figuring out next steps. I would like to see a community centre integrated into whatever future school is built with shared spaces because currently there are approximately 24K people living in that pocket who have to drive out of the area to get to a community centre.
McKee - Many parents have expressed frustration to be able to look out their window and see McKee, and yet have to bus their children elsewhere. Although there is an extension being built, there needs to be even more capacity added to meet the growth of the community. We discussed some possibilities including creating a campus with Mitchell Field.
Centrepoint Mall area - with multiple 50 story buildings slated for this area, I am concerned about school capacity in the area. TDSB planning assured me that nearby schools do have capacity, including schools that could shift their programs such as Drewery Secondary School and Silverview Public School. Unfortunately, TDSB only builds to current need rather than towards future growth. Hence nothing will happen until children move into the area and are being bussed out in significant numbers.
I am grateful to have had a rare collaborative conversation with TDSB planning and North York planning department staff. We plan on having regular meetings so we can work together to make strong business cases to support the growth in our community.