The football field, track and surrounding green space will likely be off limits to students at Central Tech for another school year as a result of an ongoing court battle between the Toronto District School Board and the city.
The TDSB has filed a notice of appeal and is seeking to overturn a decision by Superior Court Justice David Corbett, who ruled that the board's plan to build an artificial turf field and inflatable dome, was not exempt from the city's zoning regulations.
The field at the downtown school has been closed since last November. The decision was made by the board following tests that found soil there was contaminated, although the risk was described as "minimal" by the outside company reviewing the data.
"The field will remain closed," said TDSB spokeswoman Shari Schwartz-Maltz, as the board pursues its appeal to the Ontario Divisional Court, which is scheduled to hear the case in late August.
The legal dispute hinges on an agreement the TDSB made with a private company, Razor Management. The terms of the proposed deal would have the company cover the cost of construction and operations and in return, receive all revenue from renting out the field over the next 20 years. Central Tech would have free access for its students during the school day, which would work out to about 30 per cent of the time the facility is open. The rest of the available hours would be controlled by Razor.
Judge Corbett concluded that the agreement did not fall within the exemption to the zoning bylaw, which requires any building or structure on school property to be used only for teaching or instructional purposes. "Commercial exploitation of TDSB facilities is not a 'school use' of TDSB premises," the judge wrote in the decision issued June 13.
The sharply worded notice of appeal states that the Superior Court judge made 10 legal errors in his decision and was unfair to the board. "Justice Corbett erred in law by breaching the rules of procedural fairness and natural justice insofar as he failed to provide adequate reasons and a sufficiently clear legal basis for his decision," says the appeal document filed by Gordon Petch, the outside lawyer hired by the TDSB.
The local committee of adjustment denied the board a minor variance to the zoning regulations this spring for the Central Tech proposal and a local residents' association has also been opposed to the dome, because of parking concerns and a lack of public access to the field.
Tim Grant, chair of the Harbord Village Residents' Association, said he is disappointed the board has filed an appeal. "It is very frustrating for the community and it is worse for the students," said Mr. Grant. "How much money is being spent on legal fees? It is money that could have been used to fix the field at Central Tech and many others," he suggested.
The environmental consultant's report noted that intermittent use of the field is not a concern and 10 to 15 centimetres of clean topsoil would address any risk.
An anonymous donor was willing to pay for the topsoil and a new grass turf, which would have cost about $100,000, said Mr. Grant, but the offer was rejected by the TDSB.
The estimated cost of that plan is much higher, based on the information the TDSB received, said Ms. Schwartz-Maltz.
"Nobody wants the field to close forever," she said. If the court proceeding "drags on" then the TDSB will seek bids to decontaminate the field. "We will entertain all proposals if the tender goes out," said Ms. Schwartz-Maltz.