Davisville Junior Public School could mark the site of Ward 22’s first-ever community centre, if the people behind a newly minted grassroots organization get their way.
“We see this as a tremendous, once in a two-or-three-generations opportunity to do something the community really needs,” says John Hiddema, who with Lisa Kelleher has co-founded Davisville Hub, a group formed from parents urging the Toronto school board to sell a quarter of Davisville Junior Public School’s current land to fund a new building.
“We have experience working with the board and the city on it for awhile, so we decided to start a community not-for-profit and see what we can get done,” Hiddema says.
Since 2010, the school board has been researching ways to replace the 43 Millwood Rd. school, which is too small for its 500-plus student population, but has been deemed too expensive to renovate by the provincial government. It could require more than $12 million to repair.
The current solution was devised in 2012 by a group including St Paul’s trustee Shelley Laskin, Ward 22 councillor Josh Matlow, city staff and the school’s parent council.
With the 0.98-acre site now in the hands of the Toronto Lands Corporation, the founders of Davisville Hub want to make sure any redevelopment plans include a community centre, which Ward 22 lacks despite having a fast-growing population of about 65,000, according to the 2011 census.
“We have a really diverse and growing ward, and a lot of our parents and families and tenants don’t have the services they need,” Kelleher says.
Daryl Sage, CEO of Toronto Lands Corporation, agreed in June to delay any decisions regarding the land’s sale until October.
“Obviously any land in the city of Toronto has high value, and so we’re trying to figure out how to extract that value, but preserve community benefits for the neighbourhood,” says Sage, who is now waiting for a formal proposal this fall but called a community hub “a very real possibility, and a very exciting possibility.”
Laskin says the board also supports the idea of a community use facility” on the site.
“No matter what the TDSB does at the Davisville property, parents in the community and I want to ensure that we have a new school, a community hub that provides services to a growing population, and that whatever is built there conforms to the city’s official plan,” Matlow says.
He’s asked staff from the city’s Parks and Recreation department to prepare a report outlining Ward 22’s programming needs, which he hopes to receive later this summer. He anticipates organizing a public consultation meeting soon after.
Meanwhile Kelleher and Hiddema, who admit they will see their own children graduate from Davisville long before a new school is built but are committed to supporting the community, plan to spend the next two months connecting with every neighbour, daycare, parent and philanthropic organization they can find. Readers interested in helping out can visit their website at davisvillehub.ca.
“We have to act quickly because we have a short window in terms of timing,” Kelleher says. “It’ll be a very busy summer, but also exciting.”