On a cold March morning children and parents lined up along Erskine Avenue just outside John Fisher Public School.
They flashed placards with “Save my school” and “Kids over Condos,” and they chanted “Save our school!”
They were protesting a 35-storey condominium that was approved by the Ontario Municipal Board after being described as bad planning by the City of Toronto. It’s to be built next to the school.
“It’s a massive building. You can see the fence here,” Meredith Weir said, pointing out the proximity of the construction site. Weir has two children attending the school in Grades 3 and 5. Her youngest will be entering the school for senior kindergarten in September.
The City of Toronto has said its hands are tied, but the parents are not accepting it.
“How do they learn when there is constant construction going on outside their windows?” Weir said. “It’s an old school, an old building, so in the summer how do we open the windows when they’re constantly jackhammering, and dust is pouring in?”
Ward 25 councillor Jaye Robinson, who was also in attendance, said the day before the protest she’s noticed the strain on the faces of John Fisher Public School parents.
She has been to local meetings, received hundreds of emails weekly and has opposed the condo at 18–30 Erskine Avenue. Approval for the project was given in January 2016.
The parents are concerned the project is going to break up the school community, and present a safety risk for their children. And it’s turned them into overnight activists. With them have been the French Connection Daycare, the Sherwood Park Residents’ Association, and the West Keewatin Neighbourhood Group.
“People are becoming very disillusioned, and giving up, but not in the case of 18–30 Erskine,” Robinson said. “In John Fisher, I’ve never activism like this in six years.”
The Toronto District School Board has suggested alleviating the strain by busing students to Vaughan Road Academy, which is five kilometres away in the Humewood-Cedarvale community.
“[Parents] are concerned it’s going to break up the school community, and all these kids that have formed peer groups are going to lose their good friends and start all over again,” Robinson said. “It is going to break up the school community, and people are asking why does this have to happen because of a developer who went to the OMB and appealed the city’s decision?”
Ward 22 councillor Josh Matlow is also supporting parents, as some reside in his ward.
“This is an egregious example of how the OMB sides with the developer far too often,” he said.
The TDSB has not released its findings in the initial stage of a risk assessment, and Matlow has called into question their lack of presence at the OMB hearing and in the community.
“The TDSB often doesn’t make comments, or show up, when schools are directly involved by development, and they should because developments have a huge impact on the kids in the school,” Matlow said.
Both Matlow, Robinson and other councillors have initiated the midtown focus study to collect data on the social services and hard infrastructure available for the intensification.
“You have to fight the good fight on the developers themselves, but we also need to change the system, so that the local planning authority is at the city level,” Matlow said.
Next steps include a risk assessment, conducted by a third-party consultant. As for the OMB, the province conducted a review of the board, and are expected to release their findings in the spring.