Swanek Park 1: St John 0

Swanek Park will not be the new home of St John the Evangelist elementary school.

At the very time that Rob Davis, the school’s trustee, was holding a meeting to increase pressure on the city council, Frances Nunziata was announcing in Swanek Park that the issue had been definitively and completely settled. The Etobicoke York Community Council, on which Nunziata sits, has the power to decide these issues, Nunziata told me. That power was given to them five years ago. On Tuesday the council voted unanimously against moving the school to the park.

The school board appears to be under the impression that their matter will be debated at the July 6–7 Toronto City Council meeting (the schedule for which is not yet available). A representative of the school council confirmed that this was their hope, and Davis appeared to be attempting to generate pressure on the City Council at the meeting Thursday night. He said “on Tuesday night, the York Etobicoke Community Council passed a motion that would rule out the use of Swanek Park as a possibility, as an option, and a rally was called for tonight to get people fired up, to support that”. Further, the Swanek Park location was still presented as a “preferred option”, and the handouts still mention it as an possibility with several advantages.

According to Nunziata, Davis is mistaken. Swanek Park is completely ruled out by the unanimously passed motion of the community council.

For what it’s worth, he is also mistaken about the rally being called. The ‘rally’ was a Neighbour’s Night Out, many of which occur all over the city, and in no way resembled a political rally. Further, it had been planned long before last Tuesday. I received notice of it more than two weeks ago, and I’m sure preparations were in place long before that.

Swanek Park 'rally'
Swanek Park 'rally'
Rob Davis speaking at St John
Rob Davis speaking at St John
Swanek Park as option
Swanek Park as option

Duelling meetings tonight

The Swanek Park Neighbour’s Night Out is tonight at 7:00. Residents will certainly be talking about the proposal to move St John the Evangelist school into the park and the accompanying demolitions, but city planners will also be presenting an alternative vision of the space.

The Catholic board has also called a meeting to discuss the issue—and while it’s the same issue, and at the same time, and on the same day, it’s in a different place. Their counter-meeting will be held at St John the Evangelist; the announcement says that board staff and the trustee will be answering questions about the new school site.

The Swanek Park meeting will be at 7:00 at the Queenslea St entrance. The city planners’ presentation will be at 7:30.

The TDCSB meeting also starts at 7 in St John the Evangelist Elementary School at 23 George St.

Community council officially opposed to school move

The Toronto District Catholic School Board took a liver punch yesterday. Etobicoke York Community Council expressed its disapproval of the proposal to move St John the Evangelist elementary school to Swanek Park.

The TDCSB wants to move the over-crowded school to Swanek Park. The school is now located on a small, primarily concrete parcel near the train tracks. At a minimum, the board would buy and demolish enough homes to create space for an entrance to the school. Likely, however, it would have to create green space equal to the amount given up to the school site. This may entail the expropriation and demolition of all the homes around the park.

The council passed a motion yesterday that said the plan to buy and demolish “many, if not all of the 33 houses immediately surrounding the park” was “unacceptable”. Frances Nunziata, the councillor for Ward 11, said that Swanek Park is “not an appropriate location for the school” in her summary to the council.

There are no sanctions or actions attached to the council item. Still, the pressure is now clearly on the school board; Nunziata also sits on the the Toronto Parks and Environment Committee, and is also almost certain to win the election in the fall. Thus, the TDCSB now faces both an outraged community and an opposed, long-sitting councillor with considerable power over the fate of its plan.

While this is only a symbolic loss for the TDCSB, the board appears to face a struggle.

The Toronto District Catholic School Board took a liver punch today. Etobicoke York City Council hammered the board for its proposal to move St John the Evangelist elementary school to Swanek Park.

The TDCSB wants to move the over-crowded school to Swanek Park because it is a large green site. At a minimum, the board would buy and demolish enough homes to create space for an entrance to the school. Likely, however, it would be forced by the city to create green space equal to the amount used for the school site. This may entail the expropriation and demolition of all the homes around the park.

The council passed an unscheduled motion today that said the plans to buy and demolish “many, if not most of the houses surrounding the park” was “***”

The motion does not appear to actually do anything except express council’s disapproval. There are no sanctions or actions attached. Still, the pressure is now on the school board; Frances Nunziata, the City Councillor for Ward 11, sits on both the EYCC and the Toronto Parks and Environment Committee. She is also almost certain to win the election in the fall. Thus, the TDCSB faces an outraged community and an opposed, long-sitting councillor with power.

While this is a first (and mostly symbolic) loss for the TDCSB it will not likely be the last.

Etobicoke-York Council considering future of Swanek Park

The first political shots have been fired in the battle over Swanek Park. Etobicoke-York City Council will today vote on whether it should officially disapprove of moving St John the Evangelist into the park.

The Toronto District Catholic School Board would like to move the over-crowded school to Swanek because the current location is small, lacks green space, and is close to the train tracks.

At least 4 houses would have to be demolished, but Nunziata says the “TCDSB have stated that if the school were to be built on this parkland, many, if not all of the 33 houses immediately surrounding the park would have to be acquired or, if necessary, expropriated.”

The local council will consider two of Nunziata’s recommendations: whether to not support the conversion of Swanek Park, and whether to direct the city to consider adding Swanek Park to the inventory of heritage properties.

St John’s Advisory Council co-chair explains move to Swanek Park

Dave Bennett, co-chair of the St. John the Evangelist Catholic School Advisory Council, answered my questions about moving the school to Swanek Park. Bennett stated emphatically that the board will not be expropriating the houses surrounding the park. “That is untrue,” he said, “There are 32 homes that go around Swanek. We need four. That’s quite a difference.” The four homes would be to create an opening to the park and would be sold voluntarily, he said.

Bennett also claimed, though, that the city will want to keep the total amount of green space the same as it is now. “If the city were to ask for [the same acreage of] Swanek Park to be there, it would be an additional 13 homes. That’s only if the city asks for that. Nothing is in stone. It’s all about the site”, he said. The city could also replace the green space lost at Swanek by creating parks elsewhere, he claims.

According to Bennett, the board is considering four locations in addition to Swanek:

  1. The former Beer Store lot on Weston Rd.
  2. Pelmo Park
  3. The grounds of HJ Alexander School
  4. The Visioneering land on Oak St.

The TCDSB prefers Swanek Park because it “is .8 km from the current site [and] almost in the middle of the catchment area for the school.” Further, he said, “the park size is more than what’s required for a school and our community would still have their park.” The other locations are all small and either close to the train tracks or the 401.

When asked what the board would do if they were unable to buy four contiguous homes around Swanek Park, Bennett replied, “That’s a good question.” Expropriation “is a process that is a last resort. They want to be good neighbours.”

Nunziata opposes moving school to Swanek Park

Frances Nunziata, the councillor for Weston, has released a letter expressing her opposition to moving St John the Evangelist elementary school to Swanek Park.

Nunziata says she supports building a new school, but not at Swanek. The letter says that she has twice in blunt language told the school board and representatives that she opposes that location, saying their “proposed location of Wallace C. Swanek Park was unacceptable”.

In particular, Nunziata mentions her opposition to acquiring and demolishing “many, if not all of the houses surrounding the park.” She also opposes plans to undo the work of the community to upgrade and improve the park.

The school is in for a struggle if they press forward with this location. Nunziata says that she “will fight for the best interests of the community and will formally oppose any application to build a school on the park and/or reliquish City control”. Nunziata sits on the City Parks and Environment Committee, so it seems likely that she will get her way.

Swanek Park threatened by a new Catholic School

The Toronto Catholic District School Board would like to relocate St John the Evangelist from its location on George Street to Swanek Park. The proposed move has many local residents upset because, among other impositions, the TCDSB would like to expropriate all houses [see note 1] surrounding the park.

The administration at St John has been planning to move the school since at least 2005. A study then found that there were 472 students in a school designed for only 282. As a result, there are many portables crowding a small site. There is little green space, and the school is located next to busy train tracks. A moving letter submitted to the school board by a child at the time expressed her regrets at having to practice sports on foam mats because “portables have overtaken our playground and the grass has been replaced by asphalt”.

Swanek Park is certainly bigger and greener than the current location, and it could easily accomodate a much larger school. However, according to Ross Parry, a member of the Swanek Park Improvement Committee, the local community is not embracing the move.

Swanek ParkThe Catholic board wants to expropriate and demolish many or all of the homes that surround the park (the board prefers to say they will “acquire” homes, forcefully if necessary). Residents are upset, of course—according to Parry, “Most are shocked. Some are angry.”

Parry noted that the board seemed to reject Pelmo Park, which has much more space, no houses, and an existing elementary school, so bus infrastructure and construction could be minimized.

The Pelmo Swanek Community Association will be having its first neighbours’ night out on June 24 at 7 pm at the Queenslea entrance to Swanek Park. City staff will be there to share their ideas for park improvements.

[Note 1: A reader has informed me that the TCDSB may not wish to expropriate all homes around the park. I have attempted to contact the TCDSB for clarification. I have not heard back. I will post more when I find out.]

Note 2: This post has been updated to correct an error I made. Parry did not say that Pelmo Park had never been considered. I regret the error.