Tag Archives: community hubs

Community hubs require effort from all levels of government

The editorial entitled, “Saving our community spaces” in the March 11, 2016 edition of local paper “The Town Crier” was written by TCDSB Trustee Jo-Ann Davis. She emphasizes the importance of public spaces (like publicly funded schools!) to both communities and economic growth. Davis also outlines the many challenges that make creating community spaces difficult right now.

While all levels of government agree on the importance of community spaces (a.k.a Community Hubs) in theory, none of the levels of government with access to funding sources – municipal, provincial level and federal – appear ready to provide the funding and leadership needed to create community. Instead, school boards (which cannot directly access funding but instead, rely upon whatever is given to them by the Province) and not-for-profits (which clearly don’t have deep pockets!) are left shouldering the responsibility of figuring out how to cobble together community spaces without any real access to dollars.

This model clearly isn’t going to lead to success. Money isn’t the only ingredient needed for successful community hubs but it is an important one!

Next time you hear a City Councillor, MPP or MP talk about the value of community spaces (a.k.a Community Hubs) – ask them what they intend to do to help create and fund these important elements of our public infrastructure. All levels of government must start working together in order for communities to have the spaces we want and need.


Will community hubs help to “fix our schools”?

Will community hubs help to fix our schools? This remains to be seen…

This past spring, Kathleen Wynne appointed a nine-person Community Hub Framework Advisory Group, led by Special Advisor Karen Pitre, to review provincial policies and develop a framework for adapting existing public properties to become community hubs. The Advisory Group released “Community Hubs in Ontario: A Strategic Framework and Action Plan” on August 10. This report candidly points out that “provincial policies and processes are overly complicated, often fragmented and are driven by ministry-specific requirements rather than being viewed through a lens of community needs and outcomes.”

The report outlines many longer-term recommendations to overcome these barriers – such as the creation of a provincial “lead entity” to help build bridges between provincial ministries, municipalities, school boards, health agencies, employers, immigration services and recreation centres – all the players that can be involved in creating a community hub. The report also recommends a short-term strategy for schools for immediate implementation. Although Pitre is clear that “we’re not going to save all schools — this is not a save-the-school strategy”, she did point out that, “we may need a longer planning process, because once a public asset is lost, it’s gone for good.”

The Advisory Group was realistic about what its report could accomplish and urged the Province to consider it the “beginning of a sustained conversation between communities, municipalities, local groups and the Province”.


TDSB pursuing Community Hubs – why isn’t the Province?

The TDSB has been collaborating with parents, community members and other stakeholders since 2010 to explore options for redeveloping the Davisville P.S. school site as a Community Hub. By mid-2012, they had arrived at a redevelopment strategy that offers a realistic, cost-effective approach to building a new school and community hub. This plan involved selling about one quarter of the school’s land, moving parking to underneath a new school and keeping the same amount of playground and field space.

Why would the TDSB spend money on building a new school/community hub?

1. Replacing Davisville P.S. makes more economic sense than repairing it. As of a few years back, Davisville P.S. had over $8-million of outstanding repairs, including the boiler and foundation. This figure may now be in excess of $12 million and will continue to grow as deferred repairs become more complex and costly to fix.

Davisville P.S. has the second highest (meaning second worst) Facility Condition Index score in the TDSB. The Ontario government’s “Prohibitive to Repair” score is 65, which means that any school with a score above 65 would be better to replace than to repair. Davisville P.S. has a score of 169.

2. A larger school is needed to accommodate current and projected enrolment. School capacity at Davisville P.S. was, until recently, 384 students by provincial standards. After the reconfiguration of some spaces to provide more kindergarten classrooms and other measurement changes, the school’s capacity was increased to be 512 students. In reality, no more square footage was added to the building or the outdoor play space so the decrease in utilization rate that was seen this past year doesn’t mean the school is actually less crowded.

With 538 students currently enrolled and a projected enrolment of over 700 students by 2019, this school is bursting at the seams.

3. The area around Davisville P.S. has few public amenities. With a new school building, community space could be integrated into the plans to benefit the entire community and could partially fund the redevelopment.

So, we have the TDSB working with the community to develop a community hub strategy that could be cost-effectively implemented…

How has the Ministry of Education responded?

The TDSB submitted Davisville as one of eight priority capital projects to the Ministry of Education in December 2012. It is notable that every school board in Ontario, regardless of size, was allowed to submit 8 projects.

In March 2014, the Ministry announced the approval and funding of capital projects across the province. TDSB schools only received funding for one project, receiving $11.9-million out of the $700 million (1.7%) allocated by the Ministry at that time. Given that the TDSB educates approximately 12% of Ontario students, this means that the TDSB received six times less than would have been the case if the funds had been allocated on a per-student basis across the province.

The Province did not approve the Davisville P.S. redevelopment proposal, despite an economically sound proposal that involved selling off land to create a community hub. Hmmm… so when the Province speaks about “Schools as Community Hubs” – how do they envision these happening?

Excerpted from the Davisville Parents website

Schools as community hubs?

The Ministry of Education’s mandate letter for the next four years includes developing a community hubs policy – a noble concept that would see empty public schools used creatively to benefit a community in alternate ways.

Mandate Letter from Premier Kathleen Wynne to Minister of Education Liz Sandals

However, in pursuit of short-term efficiencies, schools in rural areas of Ontario and urban centres are being forced to close.  50 mayors across Ontario have banded together to lobby the Provincial government to reconsider school closures in favour of transforming school buildings into true community hubs.

Ontario Mayors Fight to Keep Schools Open

A transformation of this kind will require both patience and co-operation between the Provincial Government, School Boards, and Municipalities.  Not an easy task but one that seems worth pursuing.