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.
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:
The former Beer Store lot on Weston Rd.
The grounds of HJ Alexander School
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.”
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.
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.
The 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.