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One-third of Toronto schools need critical repairs

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About one-third of Toronto's public schools require critical repairs, new data show, as Canada's largest school board faces a $3.4-billion maintenance backlog.

The Toronto District School Board says roughly 200 of its schools, out of 588, have old boilers, roofs, windows and other systems integral to the operation of the buildings that have surpassed the end of their service life, and are deemed "urgent" repairs.

But a school board official stressed that none of the critical repairs needed affect the health and safety of students and staff.

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"Parents shouldn't be concerned," said Angelos Bacopoulos, a TDSB associate director of education responsible for facilities. "Anything that's a health and safety issue, we deal with it immediately."

The TDSB released data Monday on its website that showed its $3.4-billion maintenance backlog represents more than 23,000 different repairs at its schools, ranging from minor to urgent. The board said that its backlog will grow to $4.7-billion by 2018 if it doesn't receive enough funding from the province.

The board has posted a list of repairs on a school-by-school basis. It has also published each school's facility condition index (FCI), which is a measurement of the condition of the school. Older buildings, which generally need more repairs, have a higher FCI rating.

The provincial government recently gave school boards $1.1-billion more in funding over the next two years earmarked for essential maintenance work, with $257-million of that money going to the TDSB.

Ontario Education Minister Mitzie Hunter said in a statement that the funding "will ensure the TDSB is able to address urgent priorities and significantly reduce their repair backlog."

The TDSB has been vocal in the past about inadequate funding from the province to make much-needed repairs that has resulted in its ballooning maintenance backlog. Across the province, that maintenance bill is estimated to be as high as $15-billion.

The new funding will go a long way in addressing some of the more critical repair needs, Mr. Bacopoulos said. But it is "still not enough to cut into the backlog," he added.

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The TDSB has some of the oldest buildings among school boards in the country. Mr. Bacopoulos said the school board might be able to squeeze a few more years out of some of the old boilers, for example, with repairs, rather than replacements.

Krista Wylie, a parent and co-founder of Fix Our Schools, an organization that has been campaigning for more money to repair schools, praised the TDSB for releasing the detailed information and encouraged other boards to do the same.

Ms. Wylie said the new funding from the province is a good first step but does little to address the "enormous backlog that was allowed to accumulate in Ontario schools." She said that the conditions in a school affect student achievement, attendance, health and safety.

"All school boards must be as efficient and effective as possible with the funding provided by the province," Ms. Wylie said. "And similarly, the province must ensure adequate funding is provided."

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