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Toronto Star
  • $15 billion needed to fix Ontario schools

    Ontario’s schools need $15.4 billion in repairs, newly released data from the Ministry of Education shows.

    Out of the province’s 4,658 school buildings, 1,666 — over a third — are in poor condition. Another 278 are in critical condition, with the large majority of those, around 200, in the Toronto District School Board.

    The information, released on Thursday, marks the first time the province is opening its books on the state of its schools, by revealing each school’s facility condition index — a rating system that assigns a number to each building. The higher the number, the worse the disrepair.

    Among the province’s 72 school boards, the Toronto District School Board had the highest average FCI, at 53 per cent. The Lakehead District School Board had the second-highest average, at 45 per cent.

    “The release of this data was the result of a commitment I made to ensure transparency and confidence in our public education system by releasing detailed information on the condition of each of Ontario’s schools,” Education Minister Mitzie Hunter said in a statement.

    The news comes days after the Toronto board opened its own books on the state of its schools, and the amount of money it needs to repair them. Jesse Ketchum Jr. & Sr. Public School in Yorkville, for example, had an FCI of 121, and was identified as needing eight urgent repairs — including two steam boilers and the hot and cold water pipes — and 44 high-priority ones.

    In its release, the TDSB said about 200 schools were in critical condition — a more precise number couldn’t be released because ongoing repairs mean the numbers can change daily.

    While the TDSB’s release showed the condition of its schools, the ministry data shows how the school board stacks up against all others in the province. The fact the TDSB is highest in FCI doesn’t surprise Ryan Bird, spokesperson for the TDSB.

    “As the largest school board in the country with some of the oldest schools, it’s not surprising that we’re at the top. We have close to 600 schools and a majority of those were built in the ’50s and ’60s,” Bird said.

    Bird said the release of the information is important, which is why the TDSB published their portion of the ministry’s FCI numbers earlier this week, along with all the repairs that need to be done.

    “While I think parents know there are billions of dollars in repairs that are still needed to the TDSB, it’s hard to imagine that on a local level,” he said.

    The TDSB has a roughly $3.4-billion repair backlog.

    Krista Wylie, co-founder of the Fix Our Schools campaign, said while the TDSB’s backlog is significant, the province’s numbers show that it’s not the only school board dealing with a repair backlog.

    “Beyond the TDSB having the lion’s share at $3.4 billion … that still leaves almost $12 billion in disrepair in school boards outside of the TDSB,” Wylie said.

    She thinks the $15.4-billion number is important to stress, as it shows the scale to which school repairs have been neglected.

    “The fact that $15.4-billion in disrepair has been allowed to accumulate . . . is shameful,” she said, adding the number isn’t just the responsibility of the current provincial government.

    “It’s the voters, it’s every party that’s been at Queen’s Park. It’s a collective issue,” said Wylie.

    The province announced $1.1 billion in extra funding back in June that would go to school repairs over the next two years, and Wylie applauded that, as well as the transparency of releasing the FCI data.

    “We believe it’s this kind of transparency that will then build the political will for them to fix the problem,” she said. “If people don’t know it’s a problem, they don’t know to ask for it to be fixed at voting time,” she said.

  • 3 people killed in crossbow attack

    The screams rang out just before 1 p.m., rising from the yard of a small bungalow in Scarborough and ringing out through the tree-lined residential street.

    It was clearly an argument, one neighbour said — a young man yelling, another man screaming “calm down,” prompting a woman to come out of the house to join them.

    By the time police arrived, silence. Responding to a 911 call reporting a stabbing at a home near Kingston Rd. and Markham Rd. Thursday, police officers and emergency personnel were met by a grisly sight.

    One man was dead on the home’s driveway; the bodies of another man and a woman were found steps away, inside a small garage on the back of the home’s property.

    All died from what police described as crossbow bolt injuries, and a 35-year-old man arrested soon after the bodies were discovered is believed to be behind the attacks, a police source said.

    The identities of the victims and the suspect have not yet been released, but the police source said investigators believe they are related. As of late Thursday night, Toronto police had not yet announced any criminal charges.

    Just two hours after the bodies were found, the bizarre case took another turn as Toronto police launched a separate, related investigation into a possible bomb threat at a condominium in downtown Toronto.

    Around 3 p.m., police ordered residents to evacuate 218 Queens Quay, then called in the chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and explosive team to investigate a suspicious package.

    Toronto police Supt. Bill Neadles said late Thursday night that the package was discovered inside one of the units in the building, after police arrived to notify someone in the apartment about “some of the events that may have transpired today.”

    They were sent to the unit by a call from one of investigators at the scene of the Scarborough crossbow deaths, Neadles said. He would not say who the condo unit belongs to.

    Toronto police homicide Det.-Sgt. Mike Carbone told reporters police were only beginning their probe into the complex case, and had few details.

    “With this being (only) a four-hour investigation, we still have a ways to go to determine what exactly happened,” Carbone said in a scrum Thursday night.

    Immediately after the bodies were discovered, police cordoned off a wide area around the small bungalow, in a normally quiet neighbourhood near Kingston and Mason Rds. Residents arriving home in the afternoon were met with police tape blocking them from entering their houses, likely for hours.

    Neighbours believe the home where the deaths occurred has been occupied in the last few years by a middle-aged couple.

    Property records show the house was bought by Susan and William Ryan in 2010; neighbour Karen Mercado says William passed away two years ago.

    In an interview with the Star inside her home Thursday night — with a body still visible under a tarp, just outside her front window — Mercado said no one inside her home was aware of what happened until a family member went to leave for work and saw a large police presence outside.

    “It’s scary this has happened right next door,” Mercado said. “I have two kids and this is usually a very quiet neighbourhood. I was raised in this house for 22 years and nothing like this has ever happened here before.”

    Jerome Cruz was in his yard around 1 p.m. when he heard screaming coming from across the fence. His backyard abuts the yard where the bodies were found.

    “I heard somebody screaming in anger and banging. A young man screaming. I heard another man say ‘calm down’ and a lady come from the house,” Cruz told the Star Thursday.

    Ragu Sangaramoorthy, who lives in the area, said he arrived home from work to see his street taped off. His kids were in the back seat. “Oh my God, in front of where my kids play? . . . I’m scared now. These were human beings.”

    Dale Lounsbury, who sells crossbows at a sporting goods store in Waterloo, Ont., and owns one himself, said they can be dangerous due to their power and accuracy. But they are not suited to firing multiple shots in quick succession, he said.

    “Crossbows are not a rapid-fire instrument at all,” Lounsbury said. “I can probably fire two shots a minute, maybe three.”

    Unlike guns, buying a typical crossbow does not require a licence.

    In December 2010, a man fired a bolt into his father’s back at a Toronto public library branch in another crossbow incident that captured the city’s attention. In that case, Zhou Fang then crushed his 52-year-old father’s skull with a hammer.

    Fang was initially charged with first-degree murder but the prosecution accepted a plea of second-degree murder after considering that he was the victim of long-term abuse at the hands of his father.

    He was sentenced to life in prison in 2012.

    With files from Michael Robinson, Brennan Doherty, Evelyn Kwong, Jake Kivanc, Sammy Hudes and The Canadian Press

  • Residents fight to save schoolyard sunshine in condo battle

    Canada’s largest school board is fighting a proposed condo development in the downtown core that threatens to leave a local elementary school in the shadows.

    The 38-storey mixed-use building slated to be built at Church and Wood Sts., at the southern end of the Church-Wellesley Village, would cast a shadow on the nearby Church Street Junior Public School, prompting the Toronto District School Board to join those battling to save the sunshine for the elementary school students.

    “We need to protect these young kids,” said Chris Moise, the rookie trustee who, just six weeks into the job, rallied the TDSB to participate in an Ontario Municipal Board hearing — a rare move for the school board.

    “We know (sun) is important for the kids,” said Moise. “It helps your mood, it helps you learn. . . . It’s good for cognitive growth.”

    “To remove any other opportunities for sunlight. . . . I think it’s almost a criminal act,” particularly in Canada’s northern climate, added local Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam.

    Since the students are “bound to the school grounds,” Wong-Tam said, “the quality of living space for children cannot be compromised.”

    The OMB, the province’s quasi-judicial body that handles land and planning disputes, will decide the fate of 411 Church St. in the coming months following a two-day hearing this week. The space is currently used as a parking lot.

    At the hearing, the city, which is leading the fight to save the sun, put forward an altered, 25-storey design. Their model is intended to limit the shadow mostly within that of existing buildings and, notably, within the shadow to be cast by a 37-storey tower going up at 70 and 72 Carlton St. — next door to the proposed building.

    In an emailed statement, Danny Roth, spokesperson for the property owners, Church/Wood Residences Limited Partnership, said the company had engaged in “a lengthy consultation phase” with all concerned stakeholders, including residents, the local councillor and members of the TDSB.

    “These discussions have resulted in significant changes to our proposed application,” the statement said, including, “most significantly . . . a reduction in the building’s height, from 45 to 38 storeys.”

    But local residents and parents at Church Street school, which houses more than 300 kids between junior kindergarten and Grade 6, say they’re concerned they will be left in the dark.

    Access to sunlight is “paramount,” said Lisa Fleischmann, whose daughter is starting Grade 2 at the school in September. It’s not just that it’s a shadow, she said, but it’s a big one.

    “These kids don’t get enough sun as it is,” added Fleischmann, who is a board member of the school’s child-care centre. She explained the daycare operates year-round — often in the school’s playground — offering a day camp from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. throughout the summer.

    At the hearing, counsel and experts for Church/Wood Residences argued that the concern about the shadow was overblown. Any shadow cast by the development will be “transitional and limited in time,” land use planner Michael Goldberg, of Goldberg Group, told the OMB.

    The shadow would land on any one place at the school for a maximum of 90 minutes, said Goldberg, later testifying the shadow may offer relief from the “uncomfortable condition” of direct sunlight.

    But area residents were largely unconvinced by such arguments.

    “The hour that (the shadow) is outside on the schoolyard is the hour my daughter is outside at lunch,” said Russell Gordon, whose daughter is set to start Grade 2.

    “My daughter doesn’t have a lot of time to be outside,” Gordon said, “the shadowing that’s going to occur . . . it will have an impact on the kids who play there.”

    “Whether the shadow is 10 feet or 12 feet is for the lawyers to decide,” said Nicki Ward, local resident and board member of The 519. “It’s a 400-foot building — it’s going to have a 400-foot shadow.”

    “Every developer argues the same thing: it’s not a lot of shadow, it’s just a little bit of shadow,” said Wong-Tam, but every building that goes up adds to the growing “shadow creep.”

    These buildings are permanent, said Wong-Tam. “In perpetuity, are we confining children to study and to play and develop their best years in darkness?”

    Unwelcome shade is not all that is riling up area residents. They say the OMB battle is merely a sign of “broader community issues,” namely the proliferation of condos in Toronto that now encroach upon the Church-Wellesley Village.

    The proposed condo is just one in a series of highrise developments that have recently laid claim to the village. All have been met with local protest.

    “There hasn’t been an application in this quadrant of Church St. that we’ve approved,” said Wong-Tam. “Everything has been appealed” to the OMB, which she described as “the mostegregious process when it comes to city planning.”

    “The shadow is a symptom,” said Ward. “Growth is inevitable, but the village needs time to heal itself in between growth spurts.”

    The towers, out of place in the largely lowrise village, will cast a shadow “literally and figuratively” on the community, she said.

    There are “issues of neighbourhood character,” said Lyndon Morley, whose son attends Church Street school. “At some point we have to say it’s enough.”

    Not everyone is convinced the steady spread of condos will hurt the village.

    “I see it fundamentally as a positive thing,” said Larry Richards, professor and dean emeritus at the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Architecture, Landscape and Design, and a Church-Wellesley resident.

    While Richards stressed the importance of maintaining the character of the village, he explained that the addition of highrises, particularly in place of derelict buildings and parking lots, will not erode the unique quality of the area.

    “Neighbourhoods need to maintain their distinctiveness,” he said, “but I don’t believe these towers will really seriously undermine that.”

    “One of the things that I’m very hopeful about . . . is that it’s going to be a real boost for businesses,” Richards said. “The greater good is the increased opportunity and vitality (these buildings) will bring to Church St. and the neighbourhood.”

    Richards’ optimism is not universal. And other highrises were not approved without a fight.

    The 37-storey tower set to go up at 70 and 72 Carlton St. was also the subject of an OMB hearing before it won approval last year. Residents had raised objections over the shade the highrise would cast over Church Street school, but in that case, the TDSB was not a key opponent. As previously reported by the Star, the TDSB agreed to a $1.5-million settlement from the developer.

    And, in 2014, the board accepted $1 million to back out of a fight against a 22-storey condo next to Lord Lansdowne Public School, despite concerns from parents of shadows and safety — specifically, with the lack of direct sunlight preventing ice from melting off the playground in winter and causing slippery conditions.

    “It’s our practice to work with developers whenever a development could affect a school, in order to understand what the developer has in mind, contribute our thoughts on the potential impact of the development on our school, and protect the interests of the students, staff and board,” said Ryan Bird, spokesperson for the TDSB in an emailed response.

    Ultimately, the fight for sun may become routine as new highrises sprout up along the city’s landscape.

    “(Toronto has) already become a city of towers,” Richards said. “They are fundamentally transforming the character of the city. . . . There will be some compromises.”

Arts & Letters
Trudy
Sunday, 12 August 2007