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Will community hubs find room in underused schools?

Two new enthusiasms of the provincial government could end up having an interesting synergy across the GTA, especially in neighbourhoods looking for increased community services.
On one hand, there’s the beleaguered Toronto District School Board, currently being sized up by an expert panel led by former mayor and chief commissioner of the Ontario Human Rights Commission Barbara Hall. Hall and her panel will lead up to 20 public consultations between March and May 2015 to make recommendations for improving the governance of the TDSB.
Under pressure by the Ministry of Education to balance its budget, the TDSB has been selling off underutilized property and has raised more than $400 million from the sale of 66 properties since 2008. And it’s doing a further review to see how it can consolidate its real estate assets.
“The province is telling the TDSB, you have a lot of surplus [space], maybe you can turn that surplus into revenue,” says Daryl Sage, the CEO of the Toronto Lands Corporation (TLC), the TDSB offshoot tasked with the redevelopment and sales of property no longer required by the school board. In the process, the TDSB has upset many communities who don’t want their schools closed and replaced by housing or commercial developments.
On the other hand, last week Premier Kathleen Wynne appointed Karen Pitre as chair of the new Premier’s Community Hub Framework Advisory Group. The advisory group will review provincial policies and develop a framework for adapting existing public assets to become community hubs.
That’s where the two initiatives collide: Can underutilized schools share space with community organizations, or be repurposed as community centres?
“TLC is not just in the business of disposing of sites, it’s really trying to find a way to maximize the benefits from a site,” says Sage. “With the province’s interest in community hubs, we’ll be looking through that lens now. If you step back, you realize there are so many amenities that a school may have—gymnasiums, classrooms, fields, tracks, swimming pools. If there are ways that those benefits can be shared in the community, you can see that’s where the province would like to go.”
With the city also asking for more input into how TDSB handles properties it deems underused, the possibilities for more intensive use of school properties becomes very impressive indeed.
Writer: Paul Gallant
Source Daryl Sage
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