Prov­ince halts tear down of Colum­bus Cen­tre

Let­ter from Min­istry of Ed­u­ca­tion prompts a new path for Catholic board by Jes­sica Wei

Bayview Post - - News -

A let­ter is­sued by the new On­tario Min­is­ter of Ed­u­ca­tion, Indira NaidooHar­ris, ended a long-de­bated plan to raze the Colum­bus Cen­tre at Duf­ferin Street and Lawrence Av­enue West and re­place it with an­other com­mu­nity cen­tre as well as the new lo­ca­tion of Dante Alighieri Academy.

In the let­ter, re­leased Feb. 15, the min­is­ter wrote, “I am writ­ing to in­form you that the Min­istry of Ed­u­ca­tion will not sup­port a school project that al­lows for the de­mo­li­tion of the his­toric Colum­bus Cen­tre.”

This pro­posed de­vel­op­ment was a part­ner­ship ef­fort be­tween the Toronto Catholic Dis­trict School Board (TCDSB) and Villa Char­i­ties, the own­ers of the 10-acre prop­erty.

In 2011, the school board re­ceived $32 mil­lion from the prov­ince to re­build Dante Alighieri Academy that was fac­ing is­sues of over­crowd­ing, with the ex­pec­ta­tion that the ad­ja­cent Regina Mundi Catholic School, also in need of more space, would move into Dante’s ex­ist­ing fa­cil­ity upon com­ple­tion. “The let­ter was es­sen­tially an ul­ti­ma­tum to the school board, which said that, if you con­tinue down this path, you run the risk of los­ing your $32 mil­lion,” said An­thony DiCaita, CEO of Villa Char­i­ties.

Ac­cord­ing to DiCaita, a com­mu­nity con­sul­ta­tion, com­mis­sioned by the Min­istry of Ed­u­ca­tion last year, showed that the ma­jor­ity of the peo­ple liv­ing in the area sup­ported the re­de­vel­op­ment.

“Be­fore any of that had a chance to come to the board, the Min­is­ter of Ed­u­ca­tion’s let­ter pre-empted it and pulled the rug out from un­der ev­ery­body and ba­si­cally said, cease and de­sist,” he said.

De­spite con­sultations, the re­de­vel­op­ment plan had many res­i­dents con­cerned about los­ing the his­toric com­mu­nity cen­tre. Protests were held by sup­port­ers in the neigh­bour­hood call­ing for the deal to be quashed. Mem­ber of pro­vin­cial par­lia­ment Mike Colle was one of many op­po­nents.

“They wanted to tear down a his­toric site,” said Colle. “We’ve been fight­ing for the last year. That’s when we dis­cov­ered the se­cret deal that they’d made.”

Ac­cord­ing to Maria Rizzo, TCDSB trustee for the area, the board must go back to the draw­ing board and look at new ways to unify the school com­mu­nity of Dante Alighieri Academy with the ne­glected Regina Mundi Catholic School.

“For 10 years, we’ve ig­nored [the stu­dents of Regina Mundi] be­cause we al­ways thought they would go into the Dante build­ing and we wouldn’t need any­thing,” said Rizzo. “Now that be­comes a big­ger prob­lem.”

“The let­ter was es­sen­tially an ul­ti­ma­tum to the school board.”

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