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.

A busy weekend in Weston

Despite the light rain, it couldn’t have been a better weekend in Weston..

The market was jumping, and not just in the two bouncy castles. At least four different entertainers worked the crowd with everything from accordions to Elvis. Business looked brisk for the vendors too, as one would expect in strawberry and asparagus season.

The Queens Drive 23rd annual yard sale packed both sides of the street with visitors. There were odds and ends and antiques for sale, and several young entrepreneurs were raising money for charity—at one stand, lemonade was 25¢ and cookies were 10¢, and the proceeds went to juvenile diabetes.

Elizabeth Laregina, Cher Dawson, and Gemma were also raising money for a cause. They were selling flowers in support of Weston Memorial Public School. Laregina said that they had raised over $500 from the sale of donated flowers.

Cher Dawson dug many of the plants for sale from her own garden. She has been selling them for “going on 10 years”, and said “I just love gardening, and I love nature… I like to help out the school”.

Gemma told my daughter, “It’s a great school. You’ll love it.”

Weston Memorial Fun Fair a success

Heavy rain stopped just in time for the Weston Memorial Fun Fair last night. Hundreds of people came out to play games, bounce in the air castles, and support their local school.

Libby Sestito, the school’s office administrator, said that the fair was “really great. It was very well attended, even though we thought we were going to get poured on. It was really unbelievable.”

According to Ms Sestito, the parents’ council estimates that they raised around $5000. The money will likely go toward computers for the computer lab.

Kids and adults had a great time racing in the potato sack race, and watching the staff and teachers race as well. The hotdogs were popular, and the animal encounter was a hidden gem. Kids (and their chaperones!) could get up close and pat snakes, rabbits, and exotic animals like the bearded lizard, chinchilla, and skinny pig. The animal keepers were wonderful with the delighted crowd of little ones.

Finally, your correspondent can attest that the cupcakes were a steal at 50¢.  Delicious!

Junior Kindergarten information night at Weston PS

Weston Public opened its doors to its youngest class yesterday. The school hosted an information night for its incoming class of junior kindergarten students—and their parents.

Next year’s kindergarten class is an important one: it is the first year that Ontario will have full-day kindergarten. Both local elementary schools, Weston Public and HJ Alexander, will be part of the pilot project.

The information night started with an open house, and students and parents were allowed to tour the building. At 7:30, the principal and some faculty spoke to the assembly.

Weston Public is, according to Principal Baglione, “the best little school in the city”. Ms Di Vincenzo emphasized the educational philosophy of the school, and how the kindergarten class will be play-based and fun. “Kindergarten children learn through play”.

While the mood was upbeat, there were two portions of the assembly that were disappointing to parents. Baglione said that the before- and after-care, which was supposed to be affordable, would cost between $25 and $35 a day. He said that interest in the program had diminished considerably once the price had been announced. Baglione also said that classes would have a cap of 26 students—6 more than the cap in grades 1 through 5. The kindergarten classrooms, though, will have two faculty: one teacher and one early-childhood educator. “Your little ones will be well taken care of”, he said.