What was to be $2 million dollar FIFA-grade upgrade to the St. Patrick Catholic Secondary School soccer field has been turfed, following public opposition that a spokesperson for the Toronto Catholic District School Board (TCDSB) calls “NIMBY-ism at its worst.”
Ryerson University planned to renovate the ailing East End soccer field as part of a partnership between the university and the TCDSB that would see the field shared between St. Patrick students, Ryerson students, and the public. Plans called for state-of-the-art lights, FIFA-grade turf, and removable bleachers. Unlike the nearby Monarch Park soccer dome, this field would not be domed, nor would it be a commercial for-profit enterprise – it would have been open and accessible for the community.
“What would have been a jewel in terms of improved open space for the community is not going to happen, and that’s unfortunate,” said TCDSB spokesperson John Yan. “It’s an example of NIMBY-ism at its worst.”
That’s because earlier this month Ryerson decided to find another location for the project after hearing “significant” negative feedback from numerous residents – a Ryerson spokesperson said they recently heard from about 70 people. This was a shift from initial meetings in March that revealed support for the proposed project among the school community and local residents.
“We believe this was a sensible proposal that would have benefitted the community around St. Patrick,” said Ryerson in a statement. “While some community members were in favour, it became increasingly apparent that this project, and the unique set of circumstances at this location, meant we could not meet the needs of the end users while addressing the concerns of the community.”
The area’s city councillor, Ward 30 representative Paula Fletcher, rallied against the project, citing community concerns over increased traffic and impact on the surrounding neighbourhood.
“Unfortunately, the city councillor representing the ward, Ms. Paula Fletcher, had declared her strong opposition to the project, citing the current negative impact of the nearby Monarch Park domed sports facility,” reads a letter from St. Patrick’s principal Sandra Mudryj to the school community expressing her “deep disappointment” that the project would not proceed.
Fletcher, in a letter to her constituents dated April 28, wrote “many residents have contacted my office with concerns about the Ryerson University and Toronto Catholic School Board proposal to build an artificial field and club house at St. Patrick’s Secondary School. The concerns have ranged from traffic, safety and parking to lighting and noise – but the underlying message is that this new field and club house would pose an unreasonable burden on the local community.
“I have looked closely at the project and determined that it is not viable to have two large-scale recreational fields … in a small land-locked neighourhood,” she wrote.
Fletcher urged residents to contact Ryerson and the school board and school trustee. “I always remain open-minded about better uses of our community facilities and carefully consider proposals that come forward. However, the merit of each proposal must be balanced with the needs of the local community. This one does not pass the test.”
But TCDSB spokesperson Yan said there were misconceptions in the community about the proposal, and that Fletcher did not meet directly with the school board to hear them out.
“She just refused to meet with us … A lot of the residents thought that it would be on the same scale as the Monarch Park facility, which is adjacent,” said Yan, noting the project had the support of the local BIA and was not the same scale, nor was it a commercial venture, like Monarch Park.
“It would have been left wide open, there weren’t going to be gates around it … the public could use it any time it was not in use.
“The project didn’t require site plan approval, that’s how innocuous it was. It’s just simply a field improvement,” he said. “And Ryerson was investing in not only a top notch turf, FIFA-grade turf, but the lights that were going to put in place were state-of-the-art, hooded tech lights, which only shine light where pointed. So even the residents that would be right along the fence line, they wouldn’t see the light.”
In terms of increased traffic concerns, Yan points to a study commissioned by the project which said there would be “virtually no impact on the community in terms of traffic” and noted that the majority of field users would be taking transit. One of the reasons St. Patrick was tapped for the field was because of its proximity to the subway line, he said.
“Ryerson is a city university, it’s not a university where people drive. All of the facilities are on subway lines,” he said. Besides, “university soccer doesn’t attract thousands of people, it’s basically the boyfriends and girlfriends of the people on the team. You’re talking under a hundred people watching games. I think maybe the community thought it was going to be like Toronto FC coming to play, but that’s not exactly the case. It was a field for students.”
Now, after working together on the proposal for a year, Ryerson is looking for another location for their field and St. Patrick is looking to see what kinds of improvements they can make to their field with their budget.
“We are now going to take a look at what we had already had planned for the field to upgrade. It won’t be to the extent of the Ryerson renovation, which would have been close to $2 million. Ours will be significantly less, it will be in the thousands of dollars,” said Yan, noting the grass field is unusable for the wet months and is almost a safety hazard.
“At the end of the day, it’s not being done,” said Yan. “It’s all water under the bridge, it’s unfortunate, but from our point of view the people who lost out were students. Not only St. Pat’s students, but Ryerson students who would be coming from all over the city on the TTC.”
He is hopeful that a new partnership could be forged – the city has indicated it needs dozens more soccer fields in the coming years to keep up with demand.
“Anything is possible. Soccer is the fastest growing sport in Canada. There are not enough soccer fields for kids to use,” he said. “The people around the field, they basically decided for a great majority of other people who would have found it nice to have a usable field.”
For her part, councillor Fletcher said in a letter to residents of the Monarch Park neighbourhood about the university’s decision not to proceed with the soccer field, that she has told Ryerson she “would be happy to help them find a more appropriate location.”