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No agreement over shared school space

City and public school officials are asking why, after 12 years, they have yet to sign an agreement on how they share buildings.

“Our schools, especially in older parts of our city, are often the home of our community centres,” said Ward 31 councillor Janet Davis.

Davis is asking for an update on the marathon negotiations between Parks, Forestry and Recreation and the Toronto District School Board. It’s her third such request.

She was prompted by conflicts over space at Gledhill and Adam Beck public schools, shared buildings that were built with funding from both the city and the school board.

While the issues were resolved by reviewing and extending old agreements, those agreements expired last year.

“I don’t know what the problem is, but I think it’s important that we get on with this,” she said.

Susan Fletcher agrees. Fletcher is executive director of Applegrove Community Complex, which is connected to Duke of Connaught Public School. She is also a member of an Ontario coalition called SPACE (Saving Public Access to Community Space Everywhere).

“For SPACE, it’s such a clear issue,” she said. “Here are these buildings that we’ve all paid for in our tax dollars, and using them for community purposes just makes so much sense.”

Fletcher said Applegrove has a good relationship with staff at Duke of Connaught, where they occasionally use classes for after-school programs. Evidence shows that Applegrove’s pre-school programs help kids when they start Grade 1 next door, and the school and centre coordinate a crafting class for seniors and Grade 8s.

But from 1993 to 2011, Applegrove’s agreement with the TDSB had technically expired, and it has since expired again.

“We’re fairly secure that the TDSB will renew the lease, but we’re not positive,” she said.

Local school trustee Sheila Cary-Meagher summed up the whole issue with one tangled word: amalgamation.

Before they joined, she said Toronto, East York and other municipalities had a very tight relationship with the school board. But afterwards, tax changes left the school board scrambling to find the money to keep schools open outside class time.

“In places like Scarborough, everything had been built with the assumption that they would be mutually used,” she said. “And when the curtain came down, there was the city with no recreation space.”

What makes the problem worse is that over time, in a shared building, it’s easy to forget whose space is whose.

At Gledhill, she said park staff from the attached Terry Fox Recreation Centre started moving into unused offices years ago, only to find in 2012 that they actually belonged to the school. The reverse occurred at Adam Beck, where the school took over city space during some high-enrolment years when it needed more room.

Given the many ways Toronto and the former municipalities set up such buildings, Cary-Meagher said it’s no wonder it’s taking so long to sign a master agreement that covers them all.

“There’s just too many exceptions,” she said. “History is a very powerful thing.”

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