As Maurice Cody Junior Public School’s principal Andrew Howard diplomatically puts it, the Bayview and Davisville-area school’s dirt field restricts childrens’ play.
“In wet weather it’s a mud pit, and in drier weather it’s a dust bowl,” he says. “There have been a number of days that we have to block off the field because of excessive ice or water.”
Local residents also use Maurice Cody’s field as a park, and the city runs a community centre there.
Parent Kevin Rachman says the last time the field was covered in grass, it was dead within three months.
“It was too many feet on too little space for sod to really survive,” he says.
In response, several members of the school’s parent council began organizing a “Dirt-to-Turf” committee in Sept. 2011, hoping to raise $400,000 to cover the field in artificial turf.
Rachman, who co-chairs the committee, says that fundraising began in earnest last May, with a launch party for parents that raised around $7,500.
Earlier this year, local businesses COBS Bread and Tremblett’s Valu-Mart also supported the campaign with sales donations. By the end of March, the parents had raised over $33,000.
The committee’s most significant boost came last month from Ward 22 councillor Josh Matlow, who secured $300,000 in Section 37 funding (money paid by developers to exceed height or density bylaws in exchange for community benefits).
After Rachman announced the funds during April’s school council meeting, the community donated an additional $9,000. The parents’ committee also organized a second annual Dirt-to-Turf party, held on May 3, and is planning a spring fair and silent auction for June.
“It went from being fundraising … to being a celebration,” Rachman says of the party.
The Toronto District School Board, which owns the field, is now preparing for the new turf’s installation by Sept. 2013.
“We still have to fundraise the remaining $50,000 to $60,000 in order for construction to begin,” Rachman says. “But the board is undertaking the … process on good faith that the community is going to make those donations.”
For his part, Matlow says he was thrilled to contribute to the committee’s efforts.
“They’ve engaged the community in a remarkable way,” Matlow says. “If you drive or walk around the community, you’ll see lawn signs on many different yards with a Dirt-to-Turf sign.”
The next step, he says, is signing a community use agreement: one condition of Maurice Cody’s municipal funding is the field must be available for public use as often as possible.
However, the board approved the field under the condition that it wouldn’t create any new maintenance costs for its owners.
The new turf will have a life expectancy of just over a decade, Rachman says, which means the field needs to generate enough revenue through community centre activities and event permits to replace the surface layer within that time frame.
“We accept that 12 to 14 years from now, we don’t want the community to have to fundraise again to replace that turf,” Rachman says. “There needs to be some permitting, but … we’ll work to limit it as best we can.”
Matlow says he’s waiting for the board to calculate how much it will need to raise over the next decade before asking the community how the field could earn revenue.
“I’m personally raising my daughter in the community, and I’m really proud to work with my neighbours to … expedite the timeline, so we can start construction as soon as possible,” he says.
Howard was involved with a similar field conversion during his tenure at nearby Northlea Elementary and Middle School.
“I saw the benefits that came to both the community and the school itself,” he says. “It’s exciting to know that the kids are going to have a place where they can actively play, and where the community can kick around a soccer ball after work.”
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