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ACO Toronto Schools at Risk Symposium - On You Tube
Catherine Nasmith | May 20, 2018

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From Issue No. 269 | May 21, 2018

Rust chewing through the steel at Lord Lansdowne Public School, Peter Pennington Architect City Adult Learning Centre, April 7, Peter Pennington Architect

For almost ten years, Architectural Conservancy Ontario has been expressing concern about the way the provincial school funding formula puts school buildings at risk, leading to premature demolition of buildings which have cultural significance no matter how you measure it. Some are great architecture, all represent public investment in our most important civic objective, public education, and all have played an ongoing role in the life of their respective communities. 

The Davisville Junior Public School is on the National Trust for Canada's Top Ten Endangered List, chosen for its merits and representative of school buildings across the country that are being neglected by penny-wise pound-foolish governments. 

On April 7, Toronto School Buildings at Risk: A symposium in 3 Parts organized by ACO Toronto examined both the cultural value of school buildings and the political and government forces that are putting some of our most significant public buildings at risk. Held at the City Adult Learning Centre at 1 Danforth, a building designed by the brilliant Toronto District School Board (TDSB) team of Peter Pennington and F.C. Etherington, the wonderful design and the decay that has set in were evident; paint was hanging from the ceiling in sheets, linoleum worn through and dirt build-up in all the corners. 

The day opened with remarks from Councillor Josh Matlow lamenting the conflict between cultural value and government funding approaches that led to the failure to conserve Davisville Junior Public School.  Steve Shaw from the Toronto District School Board and Krista Wylie from Fix Our Schools set out the maintenance challenges for the school board in the face of inadequate and unpredictable provincial financial support.

Since the Harris government amalgamated all the school boards and eliminated their direct taxation powers, the Toronto District School Board is no longer directly responsible for raising its monies, and has to make choices described by Krista Wylie as between "bad or worse". Over the past 15 years the maintenance backlog in Toronto has grown to nearly 6B, with 1/4 of the schools slipping to critical condition. Vik Pahwa's slide show captured both the glory of our school buildings and the perilous state many are in. Local provincial candidates Peter Tabuns (NDP) and Li Koo (Liberal) debated their approaches going into the election. (The conservative candidate declined the invitation to participate.)

By lunch the causes of the problems were clearly set out. In the afternoon the focus was on the architecture, with Alex Bozikovic, Globe and Mail architecture columnist speaking of the buildings from 1900-1940. Robert Moffat focussed on mid-century modern, with particular attention to the work of TDSB architects F.C. Etherington and Peter Pennington. Mary MacDonald spoke of her experiences as head of Heritage Preservation Services at the City of Toronto and her thoughts on school buildings. Jessie Gammara covered the typology of mid-century schools in Don Mills. 

Finally, the topic of what to do with redundant school buildings was examined by three speakers. Carol Kleinfeldt, who along with Kim Storey led the Mod Squad fight to save Davisville Junior Public School, showed the alternative site plans they had developed. Marco Polo from Ryerson University described his students' projects, some very fresh ideas for the Davisville Junior Public School building. Alex Speigel, a property developer, shared his work repurposing school buildings for condominium purposes; the George Brown Campus in Kensington Market and the Loretto in the Annex area. 

Over the past year, ACO Toronto has embarked on a project to document all of the City's school buildings. Over 500 TDSB buildings were photographed in the summer of 2017 and posted to TOBuilt, the rest will be done in 2018. A researcher, Loryssa Quattrociocchi, is putting together as much information as is available on architects, dates, critical information which ACO Toronto hopes could lead to a batch listing of all school buildings.  Such a listing would force a conversation between the School Boards and the City regarding conservation of this important building stock before irreversible decisons are made.

As master of ceremonies for the day, I had a ringside seat on several exceptional presentations and papers. The symposium was promoted to Ontario Association of Architects members as part of the Continuing Education program. It is possible that the material may be published, but in the meantime you can see the videos on You Tube. If you are looking for facts and figures as to why the school buildings in your neighbourhood are in trouble pay close attention to Steve Shaw and Krista Wylie. 

The Presentations are on You Tube .

The Toronto Star Article that followed.


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