The Central Tech High School library in Toronto played host to over 200 local residents and students on Thursday evening for a community meeting about the fate of their track and field.
The issue attracted local councillor of Ward 20, Adam Vaughan and the city’s mayor, Rob Ford. Ward 19’s councillor Mike Layton was also in attendance, along with a slew of other community figures. They mayor was greeted with cheers from the crowd.
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Ford has thrown his support behind the plans and the issue has him and Vaughan butting heads outside of City Hall.
The track has been closed to students and the public since Razor Management, the company that built the new Monarch Park facility, drilled bore holes into the ground for preliminary testing and found contaminants. Adam Vaughan has also applied to have the school grounds designated a cultural heritage site, which would mean it could not be renovated.
As the facility is today, the school — home to over 2,000 students and a city champ football team — is unable to host even high school level championship events. The Toronto District School Board doesn’t have enough money to renovate and are on board with the project; they feel the renovation is long overdue.
“I have played on it and coached kids on it and that field is not safe,” said Mayor Ford, but Vaughan has reservations and opposed the project.
“We need to have a conversation before we sign a contract, not afterwards,” said Vaughan.
The project on the table would see the old, original facilities upgraded to a new artificial turf field and high performance track with new lighting and change rooms. The lighting would stay on until 11:00 p.m. as per city bylaws and the track and football field would be covered with a dome during winter months, making it accessible year-round. It was also stressed that the school board’s lands are private lands, not public. Currently the public has access to the facility through permits and because the school board allows them to. The land would be leased to Razor for 20 years to operate the facility as a private-public partnership. The renovation will cost an estimated $6 million.
Matt Raizenne, CEO of Razor Management, understands that the field and track are used heavily by the community. He is a runner himself and ran cross-country in high school with Olympic marathoner Eric Gillis. When asked how many in the audience regularly run on the track about 60 hands went up.
“If we’re going to do this it has to be accessible to the community,” said Raizenne, noting the track will still be free to access out of school hours to the public and for a fee during the winter when the dome is up. “People in the downtown core will be able to use the facilities. We want to be a facility of choice and a facility that the province looks to and says ‘we want to do that.'”
Most of the pushback from the community came from worries about increased traffic and parking problems. Locals from the area spoke and stressed already bad traffic problems and noted worries it could become worse. There are no plans to increase parking spaces and parking is already at the premium around the school, which hosts night classes.
The mayor also made comments to opposition because of parking concerns: “What are you going to do? Say no to everything? Say no to any development?”
Monarch Park Collegiate principal, Cynthia Abernethy, spoke about the parking issues with the facility Razor has built at her school, saying it was originally a problem but that “the situation has vastly been improved.” She also said the school has benefitted immensely from having the new track.
The meeting also saw speeches from students and teachers of the school and Adriano Belli, a Central Tech grad who played two seasons in the NFL and had a long CFL career. Belli’s speech, along with some others, elicited cheers from students of the school.