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Should Toronto Public Schools Sell Playground Land for More Condos?

13 December 2012

Land is running short in Toronto, while the amount of condos is running high – and each condo is being built higher than the next. So where does the idea come from to start selling the playground space in the city? Space that currently belongs to public schools, where children and families play? It’s an idea that sprung up “behind closed doors” (according to the Toronto Star) at a meeting with the Toronto District School Board.

It’s nothing that hasn’t been done in the past. North Toronto Collegiate Institute sold a parcel of their land for $52 million, and two condo towers went up on the site. Dalton McGuinty has even suggested before that after school playground space is sold, new schools can be built in addition to new condos and commercial space.

And it’s not as though children and families would be left with nothing but the cold concrete steps of their building to gather. Many schools currently have more space than they could ever conceive to use. Hollycrest Middle School in Etobicoke, with their 17 acres, is just one example. To put that in perspective, that’s more land than Rogers Centre currently covers. If some of that land were to be sold, just like at any other school that had part of their land sold off, the school would still retain some of it. In Hollycrest’s case, only 12 acres would be sold to developers.

Selling off bits of land to developers would take care of one big problem – Ontario’s deficit. There’s no question that Ontario is in bad shape right now, and that the provincial government is looking for ways to stop stemming the cash flow coming out of the schools. Perhaps adding revenue, in the way of selling land, could be a boost to the cuts the government has already made.

Of course it’s not going to be a miracle saving all of the public schools. The sale of land parcels would be a one-time cash influx, and that cash would be used for capital costs. Those costs would include either renovating or expanding existing structures, and not be put towards the day to day expenses of running the schools. It’s also worth noting that in addition to the condo towers put up on North Collegiate Institute’s land, that school also got some major repair and renovation work that the building had needed for some time.

But with all the good that comes from it, there is one main negative, and it’s one that’s going to come up again and again should the sales of these land parcels go through. That’s the fact that it’s going to directly impact the children and family that currently use that space. Parents are going to protest, and they’re going to do so loudly. Even with huge parcels of land that currently have only a fraction of their space being used, any sale would also mean a commercial space or high-rise being built right beside that child-friendly space.

That really is the only opposition this transaction would likely see – but it is a biggie. And it’s the only thing that will hold any of these sales up.

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