Jun-Aug 2019 update
What can I say about our second round of attempting to push West Scarborough Neighbourhood Community Centre’s Case 4 Space forward? It has been quite the roller coaster of ups and downs-- sometimes fun, exciting, and hopeful, while at other times challenging, over-complicated and nerve-wracking.
Of course the side of the project of being welcomed back into the big family of West Scarborough was amazing. Every day I felt so blessed to be coming in to such a happy, fun, and caring environment full of such wonderful people from all walks of life and backgrounds. I can’t stress enough that WSNCC is an amazingly special place that deserves the world. Inspired by your passion and dedication to making West Scarborough a better place, I started this second contract “shooting for the moon”.
I so wanted to help build a new centre with 2.5 x more space as recommended by the Feasibility Study including a large aquatics wing, a double gymnasium with a walking track and fitness room, many multi-purpose spaces and a café. I sketched out ideas, did many “blocking” diagrams to figure out the best arrangement of rooms on 3D modelling software, and organized some visioning exercises with the Youth Justice “Well” Program and with Staff. I drew a few variations of the building, settling on an idea of a terraced building with lower levels embedded down the Byng Park hill from the Eastern edge of the parking lot, thinking this was the most practical solution given the site’s constraints.
All the while we were playing telephone/email tag with the City’s Real Estate Department who were sorting out our lease. At this time in June we were under the impression they just needed some time to draft up a new lease agreement that included opening up the option for us to build on site, and that everything else on our lease could be business as usual.
Meanwhile, just about every day I was speaking with people in various City Divisions trying to track down who could help us with a land survey or Environmental Site Assessment or funding or helping discuss planning regulations and permits. I spoke with someone overseeing Parks and Rec’s Master Plan to see if there was any possibility of accessing some of their facility capital funds slotted over the next 10 years for capital projects to help our project since the Master Plan made mention of independent partnered organizations such as ourselves. I was also going back and forth with those at the Toronto Region Conservation Authority who oversee Warden Woods ravine and a portion of the property since it borders these woods. Parks and Rec. seemed interested and enthusiastic about our plans and the Case 4 Space Feasibility Study, however they told us that they are essentially overwhelmed with re-arranging their funds as per some changes in the Planning Act from the Province that will keep them busy until the Fall. I’m still hopeful that there may be some avenues for City help from that department once the dust settles on all the new Planning Act changes.
Then there was the fact that our site is built on an old landfill. I went on a little field trip over to the Toronto Archives building on Spadina to do some investigating. From aerial and railroad photos on file I could see clearly that the site was in operation right up until the year before the Boys club building was built in 1965/66, and that there was a small incinerator plant on site (around the Bocce Court area).
From there I started sifting through the Environmental Planning Act and called an Environmental Consulting firm that specializes in brownfield remediation to ask for some advice. They kindly came for a free site visit and gave lots of helpful—but somewhat disappointing--news and advice. The good news was that the site appears to be on an “inert landfill”. That means there are no gases from organic compounds trapped beneath us, likely no dangerous toxins in the soil as the plant life appears healthy, and there are no signs of land shifting seen by examining the building’s foundation in the basement, all due to the fact that the garbage had been burned on site as opposed to just buried. Unfortunately at the end of the visit, the consultants told us about the Environmental Planning Act’s Regulation 232 that came into effect in 1998. It essentially meant that we will have to pay a large premium if we do any digging or excavating to build as all our soil will have to be specially removed and tested even though our site is likely considered inert. Essentially, when building on an old landfill it is recommended to build nothing below grade, with everything built on concrete slab foundations. They also said we might be a lot better off keeping the original building instead of tearing it down because it was grandfathered-in pre-regulation 232 and might make it easier for us to expand as opposed to build all new.
Well, that meant no more terraced building on Byng Park hill, as that would require being dug into the hill.
This was a bit discouraging but I knew that there were still lots of options available. Perhaps it was time to re-visit the idea of building on top of the current building, or beside. Perhaps the Pool could go where the basketball court is in the back… but then it turned out it is likely too close to the steep ravine hill and would require hefty engineering, not to mention it is within TRCA’s semi-restricted building area.
Infringing on the parking lot isn’t much of an option as we will need all that parking space with an expansion. Suddenly all our larger building options were decreasing and moving into prohibitively expensive territory. Completely gutting the current building to retrofit it has the unwanted issue of re-locating all programming for a year or longer, not to mention the fact that expensive and unwanted surprises when opening it up could suddenly jump the cost mid-construction which is fairly risky.
We decided it was time to look at smaller expansion options. We know the most urgent thing is more multi-purpose spaces so that EarlyON, Playcare, Seniors programming and the Boys and Girls Club don’t have to constantly feel like they are stepping on each other’s toes sharing all the same spaces, with the maintenance staff having to rearrange the rooms between program times at breakneck speed. The idea of a new 60,000 square foot building is exciting, but with the landfill limitations and no funding as of yet…it is starting to seem like too idealistic of a pursuit as an independent not-for-profit.
The now hardly-used Bocce court on the north edge of the parking lot started looking like the best area to build over as it sits just outside the TRCA boundary.
So I began designs for a secondary building there (keeping it unattached to the old building would limit the expenses that would come from complications of attaching an old heating/cooling/plumbing/electrical system to a new one).
The option of a full-sized 60,000 square foot building doesn’t necessarily have to be off the table forever, but the original estimated cost of $35-40 million (which is already quite high) would likely be even higher with all the environmental regulations. Also, with no funding currently in sight, we decided scaling back and focusing on something a little more manageable could give us much needed relief faster. If we are able to pursue the 2-storey, 12,700 square foot building on the Bocce Court, it may only cost 7.5 million dollars total, with the base construction cost estimated at just under 5 million at $375 per square foot.
Still however, the Real Estate department at the City seem to be having trouble trying to figure out what our lease agreement could be. Besides the fact that we want to add the option of expanding onto our lease, they want to work out a different agreement from the one that we’ve had the past few decades that has worked so long. This uncertainty seems to be stalling everything, as it is hard for us to move forward confidently on the Case 4 Space not knowing how or when the new lease agreement will be finalized. Now that we have forged more of a relationship with our newer City Councilor Gary Crawford, it looks like he and his staff are going to help advocate on our behalf so that we can move past this cumbersome barrier.
I feel hopeful that a smaller secondary building on site is feasible and could still make a big impact on West Scarborough.
The current Bocce Court building designs include a 1,300 square foot Café on the ground floor that could act as an area for parents to hang out at while waiting for kids at program, youth to come and do their homework, and seniors to socialize, all while having the option to purchase healthy light fare or a drink. It could also be a great place for youth or newcomers to get their first job and training.
Also on the ground floor would be a large EarlyON playroom of 2,700 square feet that includes a kitchenette, ample storage and a south-facing glass wall looking out onto an enclosed children’s garden and Byng Park. Giving EarlyOn their own dedicated space would make a huge difference in the main building by freeing up the Gymnasium during the school year and the South Lounge during the Summer for other programming.
On the upper floor of the Bocce Court building (there would be an elevator), would house the Toronto Youth Job Corps offices which we currently run at a satellite location. Re-locating TYJC to 313 Pharmacy would save us thousands in monthly rent and help make the services more accessible to our home-base community.
EarlyON offices would also be on the second floor, as well as a Staff Lounge and a new 1,300 square foot Multi-Purpose room that could be divided into two smaller rooms. This upstairs room could be used for programming during the week, and then rented out as a conference/workshop/event space on weekends to generate more income to help with other costs.
On top of the café is a sunny, west-facing upper patio that could be accessed from the Multi-Purpose room, the staff lounge, or the TYJC office and has ample space for veggie garden planters that could be used as fresh ingredients in the café downstairs.
Furthermore, all washrooms would be gender-neutral single use rooms, with ¼ being fully accessible as recommended in our Feasibility study.
I feel strongly that the Bocce Court building is an attainable goal over the next few years, and once complete, would make a big positive impact on West Scarborough’s community. More space for programming, fully accessible, and a community café for everyone to hang out at could bring WSNCC into a new phase of community engagement as it continually evolves to better suit the needs of the community.
Now as I leave Toronto to attend Teacher’s College in Thunder Bay, it is up to you, the community, to carry this project forward.
I encourage you to tell all your family, friends and coworkers about our Case 4 Space dream. Look for opportunities for fundraising, grants, connecting with your local politicians, etc.
If you feel inspired to start a fundraising campaign yourself, all donations can be made online at wsncc.org. If you click the “Donate” button, there is now an option to specifically donate to the Case 4 Space. All donations will be held in WSNCC’s Legacy Fund until it can be used for a capital project.
I want to thank all the staff at West Scarborough for the amazing support and encouragement as I’ve navigated this complicated process over the last few months. Namely, the Seniors Staff, Admin, and Manan from EarlyON who I shared a working space with, Josh Hood of the Boys and Girls club for taking me on a tour of local Community Centre’s for inspiration, Cynthia and Jolanta for their tireless efforts to bring WSNCC forward into a better future and keeping me encouraged, Simon of Aquatics for all his help with media and general advice, Youth Justice Services for hosting the Visioning exercise, Maintenance staff for bringing me snacks and being hilarious, Playcare, Boys and Girls Club, and EarlyON staff for the friendly conversations and smiles, and everyone for just being so great and making me laugh even amidst some of the most stressful moments.
And Thank YOU, the West Scarborough community, for being involved and helping our Case 4 Space petition to the City reach over 700 signatures!
West Scarborough Neighbourhood Community Centre: You are AMAZING. Keep up the good work and let’s make the Case 4 Space a reality!
-Sofia del Junco
Case 4 Space Project Facilitator