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The developer of a controversial 35-storey tower next to Toronto’s oldest elementary school says relocation of the 500 students isn’t necessary during construction because safety is “our number one priority.”
“At no time have we considered it necessary for there to be any student relocation during the construction process,” Nathan Katz, senior vice-president of planning and development with KG Group, said in an email statement.
“We and our construction manager both have long track records of safely constructing large developments in high traffic areas, including near schools. That’s why, from the start, our plans for this project have included comprehensive health and safety precautions to protect children attending John Fisher Junior Public School and the adjoining daycare.”
His statement comes amid a growing outcry from the community over the project near Yonge and Eglinton and the possibility that the Toronto District School Board will relocate the students next fall.
About 200 parents and kids staged a protest outside the school on Thursday morning and were joined by Mayor John Tory, local city councillors Jaye Robinson and Josh Matlow and school trustee Gerri Gershon.
Parent Sogol Shams said the large turnout for a protest organized on short notice reflects the high level of concern over the tower.
“We’re proud of our community coming together and happy to see the politicians,” said Shams, who has a son and daughter at the school. “But at the same time we’re all still very worried about it.”
Shams said the statement from KG does “not at all” reassure her about safety issues.
Relocating “would destroy the school,” Shams said, because many parents have already indicated they wouldn’t travel to another location.
The notion of moving the French immersion students and child-care centre to another site for a few years “is so absurd that I can’t believe we’re having the discussion,” Tory told parents, while children bundled up and holding placards chanted “save our school.”
The interests of the builders in an already crowded part of the city should not come before the interests of students and families, he said.
The situation at John Fisher also poses a huge dilemma for the whole area, where English language schools that many families may decide to move their children into are already over capacity, and several reorganizations that involve shifting students are already taking place.
The highrise apartment project, on a small lot with no setbacks just steps away from the century-old school, was approved by the Ontario Municipal Board last year. It has been the subject of heated debate as demolition approaches this summer, with parents citing serious concerns about safety issues related to a crane overhead, heavy equipment, traffic, noise, vibrations and air quality.
It has also prompted fury among parents and local residents upset at the overdevelopment in the midtown area, where infrastructure such as schools and green space can’t keep up with the number of highrises under construction.
Local politicians, including Premier Kathleen Wynne, who is MPP for the riding, are in discussions with all parties and seeking “a creative solution,” Tory said Thursday, though he didn’t speculate on what that might be.
KG Group did not respond to interview requests last week when the issue of relocating the school was raised. The company has said it will adhere to city bylaws, but Katz did not specify in his statement what specific safety measures it will take regarding the young children next door.
The company has heard the concerns and will work with the city, school board, and local politicians to allay those and to minimize disruption, he wrote.
“As parents and long-standing members of the Yonge and Eglinton community, the safety of students, parents, teachers and all others around John Fisher Junior Public School is our number one priority,” he said.
Meanwhile, at Queen’s Park, Municipal Affairs Minister Bill Mauro emphasized that the Ontario Municipal Board didn’t impose a resolution on the dispute.
“The OMB did not make a decision here. They approved a mediated agreement between those three parties,” said Mauro.
“It’s clear to me — based on information provided to me – and I think we need to make it clear to the community that this is not an OMB ruling,” he said.
“This is the OMB approving a mediated settlement between three parties, including the city of Toronto, ratepayer groups, and the applicant.”
With files from Robert Benzie