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Community Fights Back Against Privatization of Central Tech Field

by Cherise Seucharan

The track and field area at Central Tech has been closed to students and residents for several months.
The track and field area at Central Tech has been closed to students and residents for several months.

The Toronto District School Board is continuing to push forward a plan that would privatize management of the Central Technical Collegiate field. But community groups are fighting back against the proposal that could cause harmful environmental effects and prevent community access to the downtown high school's space.

Since 2013, the Central Technical Collegiate track and field area has been closed due to soil contamination. The TDSB has been pushing a $6-million privatization plan that would have Razor Management replace the existing grass with artificial turf and a seasonal dome. The TDSB is now launching an appeal to the Ontario Municipal Board to override city bylaws preventing construction of the dome, despite losing previous appeals in other courts. Frustrated at the lack of transparency from the school board, the Harbord Village Resident’s Association (HVRA) has filed a Freedom of Information request to the TDSB, and launched a petition to stop the project from moving forward.

 

Lack of transparency

In 2012, members of the Annex community were invited to present proposals to refurbish the contaminated field. However, the TDSB has not addressed any of these suggestions, including one in which an anonymous benefactor would match funding from the City of Toronto for a natural grass field. Instead, they moved forward with the Razor Management proposal with little explanation.

The school board has incurred mounting legal costs in their continued appeals to the Ontario courts to contest city bylaws, which restrict school property to educational uses only. Furthermore, in September TDSB Interim Trustee Briony Glassco distributed a newsletter to the Harbord community seeking support for the dome, which the HVRA claims to contain many factual errors.

The lack of communication and transparency has come as an unfortunate surprise to the community association, who had previously had positive experiences collaborating with the TDSB on neighbourhood projects.  HVRA Chair Tim Grant now describes the board as “a huge public fortress, unwilling to share information.”

HRVA has filed a Freedom of Information request to find out the details surrounding the Razor Management contract. However, the TDSB has delayed their response until October 31st, two days after a board meeting where a decision on the proposal may have been made.

Grant sees these delays as indicative of school board’s attempts to shut out the community. “As long as you cut off the information you stifle the democratic debate,” Grant says.

Rochelle Rubinstein is another community resident who is organizing against the Central Tech proposal, with the No Toxic Turf Campaign. Rubinstein explains that she launched the project “out of frustration about the lack of information and misinformation about the health and environmental risks of tire waste artificial turf.” The campaign encourages residents to write to the TDSB and local politicians about their concerns.

 

Environmental and public space concerns

The Central Tech field is one of the few open green spaces in the Harbord Village community, serving multiple functions as a natural grassy area, and a place for physical activity and socialising. Residents are concerned about the environmental impact of the proposal and its effect on this valuable space.

Artificial turf could result in a detrimental “heat island” effect, according to Professor John Danahy, Co-Director of the Centre for Landscape Research at the University of Toronto. The material traps heat which could raise the temperature of the surrounding area up to 3-4 degrees. “Anyone that wants to construct something of that size has to mitigate the heat impact,” he said in an interview. Dahany has further outlined his concerns in a letter written on behalf of the HVRA.

Additionally, privatizing management of the field would make it more difficult for the public to access the space. While the Razor Management plan would allow rentals of the field outside of school hours, it is likely that most residents will not be able to pay those fees for casual use.

“The schoolyards in this city are the last and only spots of green surface that the community can use,” Danahy says. “They’re being treated like some sort of architectural gymnasium as opposed to a hybrid open space.”

The Central Tech proposal is part of a growing trend of artificial turf replacing natural grass fields. In July 2014, construction began on an artificial turf field and sports facility on the University of Toronto’s back campus, an area that was historically a public green space. While many student groups, administrators, and even public figures spoke out against the project, University officials pushed the proposal through in a decision that reportedly lacked transparency.

Additionally, Monarch Park Collegiate recently made the switch to privately-operated artificial turf, and there are reportedly plans in the works for other schools. So far, these projects have not taken into account the enviromental impact of several artificial spaces in a concentrated urban area.

The HVRA is hoping that the TDSB will delay a decision until it has met with the City and community.
 

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Cherise Seucharan (Cherise Seucharan)
Toronto
Member since August 2014

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Cherise is a freelance writer and photographer based in Toronto.

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