Sun. Dec 5th, 2021

The property manager of Canada’s largest school board says part of the answer to its $ 3.7 billion growing repair backlog lies in its nearly 50 non-instructional properties.

The Toronto Lands Corporation (TLC), which manages the Toronto District School Board (TDSB)’s property portfolio, says they have a plan to sell and exploit some of these non-instructional sites in an attempt to find a potential $ 1 billion. reinvest over the next decade.

“A billion dollars can easily be turned into 50 or 60 new replacement schools,” said TLC CEO Daryl Sage.

“As soon as you do that, you can see how the deferred maintenance issues that TDSB has are suddenly starting to be significantly impacted in a positive way.”

Non-teaching places are buildings owned by the board that do not have any TDSB students in them. They are used for administrative purposes or rented out – many of them to private schools.

Winchester Junior and Senior Public School is one of eight schools that TDSB says would be cheaper to tear down and rebuild than to repair (Evan Mitsui / CBC)

TDSB’s total real estate portfolio is valued at about $ 15 billion to $ 20 billion, according to Sage. The board owns 5,000 acres of land, nearly 600 schools, 36 non-instructional or administrative sites and 11 plots of vacant land. But it is still struggling to keep up with much-needed repairs at many of its existing schools.

“The school board is rich in land and poor in money,” Sage said.

The TDSB says its repair backlog could reach nearly $ 5 billion over the next few years – a problem exacerbated by the pandemic as problems such as school air quality peaked in the mind. The board has identified eight schools that would cost more to repair than tear down and rebuild, and a further 101 that are at the turning point. The TLC and TDSB chairman say the sale and use of the non-instructional property will help as long as the provincial government can be flexible and eliminate some bureaucracy.

“We have built our mission and we have built our annual plan around the idea of ​​unleashing the potential that TDSB has in their country… to actually focus on building extraordinary learning spaces for children and for society to enjoy.” Sage said.

TLC’s plan sees schools as community hubs

TLC’s focus right now is on non-instructional sites, which are part of a larger “modernization strategy” that would see schools become community hubs through partnerships with different levels of government to keep buildings public.

For example, a non-instructional site could be developed with municipal and provincial partners to create a school complete with community services such as a public library and pool, affordable housing and long-term care beds.

Krista Wylie, a parent and co-founder of the advocacy group Fix Our Schools, says she is on the plan.

The new Davisville Junior Public School building opened in September for students and staff. It will eventually include a playground and water center owned and operated by the City of Toronto. (James Spalding / CBC)

“I think it’s really an important demarcation for people and politicians to consider is that this infrastructure, which we happen to call a school today, could be a community center … focused on senior citizens in 20 years, ” she said.

TLC’s early pilot projects include downtown Davisville Junior Public School. The new school was a partnership between the province, TDSB and the city of Toronto.

The province replaced the school building, the city is in charge of the future community playground and aquatic recreation center, and TDSB rented a parcel of the property at a nominal rate to the city to build the center, which the public will be able to use. In return, students will have access to the pool during certain school hours.

Lynne LeBlanc says the old school building was small and packed students together. She says her two children appreciate the new school’s space and natural light. LeBlanc, who is also a parent co-chair of the Davisville Parent School Council, says the community is excited that the area will have a center of facilities that everyone can use.

“Our community is undergoing exponential growth and it is certainly really wanted and needed in our area,” she said.

Lynne LeBlanc of the Davisville Parent School Council says the school, recreation center and playground will serve as a much-needed community hub in the neighborhood. (James Spalding / CBC)

TDSB President Alexander Brown points to research that has shown that students who go to school in newer buildings have improvements in participation, effort, and test scores.

“You’ll get an increase in engagement. They do not want to go to another school that is outside their area,” he said.

In the case of the David and Mary Thomson Collegiate Institute in Scarborough, which was completed in 2019, Sage says the board cut off parts of the land, some of which were sold to a developer to build housing. The city bought another piece to build a day care center and a leisure center. The sale resulted in a return of $ 33 million to the board.

Provincial bureaucracy in the way, says board chairman

So why has TDSB not built more of these schools now and helped remove the repair backlog?

Sage and Brown point to two main reasons, the first being that TLC’s mandate was extended just two years ago, which then opened the door to ideas and planning.

“It allowed us to do evaluations and a lot of that work and develop those strategies that have never been considered or never presented to the province,” Sage said.

The second is provincial bureaucracy. The funds the board receives from selling real estate should go to existing repairs or updates at schools, not to new additions or schools unless approved by the province, according to TLC.

TDSB chairman Alexander Brown says he would like the Ontario government to be more flexible on how the board can spend its money. (Keith Whelan / CBC)

“We still need approval for every cent we spend of that money, even though we as a board are the ones who put it in the pool,” Brown said.

He says he also wants more flexibility when it comes to approving projects that can take several years.

There is also a moratorium on school closures, which does not allow the board to close schools with low enrollment and sell the building, even though it has nearly 60,000 excess student seats. Wylie says she does not see TLC’s plan being completed without more flexibility from the province.

“There needs to be some change in mindset and a willingness to cooperate in a really constructive, solution-oriented way in the provincial government,” she said.

Sage says the board is not looking for more money from the province, but hopes it will address legislative, regulatory and political barriers that stand in the way of progress.

The province says it is building new schools, speeding up construction

At a news conference Wednesday, Education Minister Stephen Lecce said the province will spend $ 565 million on building 26 new schools and 20 permanent additions in Ontario. It has not been announced how many will be in TDSB.

It is part of the province’s larger plan to spend $ 14 billion over the next decade to build new schools and childcare facilities while renovating and maintaining existing schools, according to the province.

“Students in all regions of Ontario will benefit from these secure, modern learning environments that are digitally connected and fully support their learning needs,” Lecce said Wednesday.

The government also says it will work with school boards to speed up school construction through a pilot project using modular methods.

“This will deliver construction efficiency and reduce construction time so students can benefit from new and updated schools more quickly,” according to a press release.

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