A Community Hub for West Hill
By Derek Pinder
In 2016, the Sir Robert L. Borden Business and Technical School (Borden) was declared surplus to requirements by the Toronto District School Board (TDSB). A public consultation was held to address the question of what should be done with the 143,000 square foot building and its 12-acre site. The answers that were the most popular with the local community were: social infrastructure for senior citizens and youth, day care, adult education, a medical centre, a centre for trades training and single-family housing. It was felt that the playing fields should remain and there was strong opposition to infill, high rises or public housing.
It has taken more than four years but we are finally seeing some progress in seizing this wonderful opportunity, and this progress seems to be in a favourable direction. The efforts of the local community, various interested organisations and, not least, Councillor Paul Ainslie, have led to hopes for a “community hub”. This is how it happened: After declaring the facility surplus, the TDSB started looking at its disposition but at the same time there was plenty of activity going on by other interested parties. Councillor Paul Ainslie initiated a motion to create a community hub at Borden and a plan to do just that was prepared by the City of Toronto. This was followed by an agreement between the City and the TDSB whereby the Borden site would be given to the City in exchange for a City-owned property elsewhere in Toronto.
This is how things stand now. There is a will to make the community hub a reality but it is going to take time to finalize the terms of the land exchange agreement. To expedite the activation of the community hub the real estate arm of the TDSB has agreed to provide the City with a five-year occupancy agreement under which the City would assume full care and control of the facility. It is anticipated that the facility could become active as a community hub as early as the first quarter of 2022.
There is plenty to do before opening day not least of which is to find occupants who will be a good fit with a community hub and can afford to pay the rent. 143,000 square feet is a lot of space to fill and it is promising that Toronto Paramedic Services are looking at taking 40% of the available space. Many other organisations including Parents Engaged in Education have expressed interest. Other pre-opening-day requirements include the approval of budgets and site design, fit-up and space allocation.
There are also some issues which haven’t been addressed, publicly anyway, which must be confronted sooner rather than later. Here are three of them. The Borden facility has a $17.2 million backlog of repairs. Since the Borden School closed because of low enrolment, why is it thought that the proposed job-skills training centre would be more successful? What is to be done with the playing fields?
Many of us felt that a community hub was an impossible dream and that rows of town houses were an inevitability. A lot of hard work and determination has taken us a long way and, if continued, will surely overcome the remaining hurdles.