Wednesday, 18 February 2015

Traffic and Safety Concerns - New School

If you are new to this discussion I wrote an open letter expressing my concerns about the location of the proposed new catholic school in Breslau.  I followed that up with a call to action and a petition that has now exceeded 200 signatures. I gathered all the information for this project that I could find and posted it so we all could find it easier and be prepared to ask intelligent questions at the public meeting on February 26 @ 7:00pm at the Community Centre. My last post raised questions about financing and the actual costs of upgrading Breslau Memorial Park.  That brings us to this past week and it has been a busy one with a few media outlets getting interested.
This experience has taught me that it isn't easy to clearly express your message when you are talking to someone who is very new to the discussion.  Especially if that someone is going to publish your comments in a permanent publication or broadcast your voice on the radio.  I tried to express my concerns clearly, hopefully others find it coherent.

Traffic & Safety

As any Breslau resident knows, between 8:20 and 8:40 this place gets a really busy especially around Joseph, Dolman and Shields streets.  Many schools in Waterloo Region have the same problem when it comes to parents dropping children off at school.  Historically this was not a problem as students would walk themselves to school or take a bus.  However, with changing demographics and societal norms children no longer walk themselves to school.  Since parents need to get to work as soon as possible, parent drop off on the way to work is becoming much more prevalent.  I have to admit that I too am guilty of this and I am part of the problem.  Recently, I have tried to drop off in more convenient locations but schools just aren't prepared for this.  This is not unique to Breslau Public School, I have had conversations with parents across Waterloo Region and they all have similar stories.  When the township proposed this new school deep in the Riverland subdivision my thoughts, as well as others, went quickly to this problem.  I hope at minimum the bell times for the new school, wherever it is located, are offset from the current school. It would be ideal if this new school had a more direct connection to the main street but I am not sure of the feasibility of that.  
How do you plan to accommodate more traffic coming into Breslau and does this school have a plan to deal with parents driving up and dropping off children?
I hope that the planners who are proposing this new school have a plan on how to deal with the very prevalent parent drop off routine.

Shared Spaces & Safety

The proposal includes allowing the school to connect to the community centre gymnasium.  I can see this as a very clear win for the school as the gymnasium is a very large facility and can accommodate many different programs.  My concern is the idea that right now it is 100% community space, a central community space that Breslau has lacked for a long time.  Now we are being asked to give up part of it to share with the school.  
What is going to happen to community programs currently run out of the community centre and the gym during school hours?
I have heard from others that they are concerned with safety if these programs (school and community) can occur simultaneously.  Conversely, if community programs are cancelled during "school hours" I can't see that going over well.
Does the proposal include a fenced in school yard with a play structure for students to use during outdoor recreation time? If not immediately, how long before a fence will be built?
Again a double edged sword.  If the  school yard is fenced then all the properties that back on to this space are going to now back onto a fence and I know that many of them would have planned their backyards and their own property boundaries very differently if they knew this was the case.  Everyone who backs onto the park has built a gate in their backyard fence.  How will this play out if the gate can't open because of a new chain link fence? Conversely again, if no fence is present how does the school plan to keep children safe with a fully accessible public park and baseball diamond next door?

Community Meeting - February 26 - 7:00pm @ Breslau Community Gymnasium

I want to encourage everyone to come out to the public meeting planned for Thursday, February 26, 2015 at 7:00pm at the Breslau Community Gymnasium.  We recently received a page of information about the project for the meeting recently in our mail box.

I am very proud of where we live, I feel confident living in a vibrant growing community, and I am excited to tell people about the innovations of our region.  I am thankful for the opportunity to speak up and have community engagement, your community is only as good as you demand it to be.  We want it to be the best for us now and the best for our children who will inherit it from us.  Thank you for reading my ramblings and thank you for showing interest.

Saturday, 7 February 2015

Breslau Memorial Park is More than Green Space

The proposed new school will affect more than some percentage of green space.  I, along with many others, have made the case that this building project will negatively affect the green space in Breslau and change the landscape that home owners expected when they purchased their homes.  However there is so much more to this story and we are just getting started.
In response, both the Township and the WCDSB have stepped up their information campaigns to try to reduce the perceived impact of this building project.  I guess that's what happens when you have over 140 signatures on a petition opposing the project.  The Township and the WCDSB are phrasing it as only a small percentage of the overall park  The problem with this argument is that this is free and open space, while other parts of the park have specific purposes (ie parking lots, baseball diamonds).  In the summer time the open park of Breslau Memorial park hosts approximately 120 children between 3 & 6 playing soccer.  You drop that school in there and there will not been enough space for that.  Below are a few recent tweets:

So I guess we touched a nerve on that one.  I think it is time to tackle a second major concern with this building plan and that concern is one of economics.

A Question of Ecomonics

The general response that I have been getting is that this land sale to WCDSB so that they can build a school on the park green space is because this is the only way to pay for all the "much needed" upgrades to Memorial park.  A summary of upgrades are as follows:
  • Move lower baseball diamond and replace lighting technology
  • Build a new comfort station (public bathroom)
  • Upgrades to the gymnasium (sound system, equipment)
  • Resurface the tennis courts, new lines and fencing.
  • Upgrades to a regulation size soccer field
  • Multi-use stone dust trail system.
  • A new storage building
  • Connect everything to municipal sewer and water
  • New Accessible playground (in conjunction with Parents Council)
  • Splash pad (in conjunction with Breslau Lions Club)
I know that they have promised more information at the meeting but I will be very interested in the following questions:
1. What is the total revenue expected from the sale of land to the WCDSB?
2. What type of income or financial arrangement has been made regarding the sharing of the library space and the gym space with the public? 
3. What is the expected cost for each of the proposed upgrades to the park?
4. When is the work on the upgrades proposed to begin? 
When you are in a disagreement with someone you always have to be willing to compromise and really listen to the other side.  If you are unwilling to compromise you will find that people will listen to you less and your opinion will no longer be heard.  So my challenge to myself is, "what would it take for me to support this project?"  The more I look at the plans and the more I hear from others this challenge becomes difficult.  However, if the Township and school board wanted to engage me they better have solid answers to the four questions above.  You can't expect me to support the permanent sale of a green space asset with a "promise" to spend at least some of the money here in Breslau.  I need to see that document that lays out the sale of the property and the rental/sharing agreements for collaborative spaces.  I need to see the total sale and how they plan on subtracting from it until it gets to 0 with every budget line corresponding to improvements and upgrades to my park.  That of course will just be a start.

Another key question:
Will there be any financial compensation to home owners who paid the park premium and for those who will need to change their backyard fence structure and gates because they now back onto school property?
There is way more to our concerns than just the loss of green space and we sincerely hope that when we show up on February 26 they have given some of this much more thought then it appears they have thus far.

The Library Carrot

You will notice that I neglected to include the proposed library on the list of upgrades that Breslau will get from this deal.  This is because I don't see the library as a part of this project.  I see the construction of a library being an absolute necessity in Breslau.  Wherever this school gets built in Breslau I fully expect / demand that a public library be a part of it.  If the school never gets built anywhere within Breslau then we need to start building our own fully accessible public library.  A library is the heart of a community, sharing events, details and literacy with the community.  If the planners and developers of this project begin to use the library as a carrot then you will see me get seriously upset.  A school partnership with the public library is an excellent model but it does not need to be build at the expense of Breslau Memorial park.

For my next post I want to talk about the actual school plans, safety, fences, and playground so if you have an opinion on that get in touch with me.

Thursday, 5 February 2015

Breslau Catholic Elementary School Partnership

I posted a follow up and call to action  to my open letter regarding this project and the township responded by providing me links to more detailed information about the project.  There has been a great response to the petition urging the township to consider a different location, with many residents providing some great questions and concerns.  I have received the criticism that we are all jumping the gun and that we should wait for the public meeting on February 26.  While this may be true, we need to be proactive with how we think about this.  I have included as much information as I could in this post to help residents of Breslau and potential users of the new school understand the project and a bit of development planning for Breslau.

I believe in information and action.  If it turns out that I am way off base and the residents of Breslau believe this is a win for our community then I will welcome the new school. You never know, maybe a school building will block the Saturday night stag and doe party music that we get to enjoy. Personally, I believe that we have better options. I am concerned that allowing this project to go ahead unchecked will result in less community space with restricted access.  I want to ensure that we as a community have facilities that we can access throughout the day and that includes a public library and an indoor recreation space for seniors and parents with young children.  I am very energized by the passion for our community that this project has brought out.  Excellent and respectful debate makes us who we are and I never want to lose that.

Breslau Catholic Elementary School Partnership
Project Information – Township of Woolwich

This announcement signifies our willingness to explore the potential for
partnership with the Waterloo Catholic District School Board to provide
shared services for the community of Breslau.

An integral part of moving forward with a project of this nature is to consult with the community in order to understand the perspectives and best interests of residents of Breslau. We will be holding an Information / Consultation meeting with the public on February 26th , 7:00 pm at the Community Centre in Breslau.

  • The Township of Woolwich recognizes this situation as a unique opportunity to establish a partnership that will enhance and improve public amenities for the residents of Breslau.
  • This partnership allows the Township to re-develop Breslau Park in a manner that would not otherwise be possible through the Township’s operational or capital budgets.
  • Funding gained through the disbursement of surplus park land will be reinvested back into making Breslau Park a more user and community friendly facility.
    • Relocate the lower baseball diamond to provide a buffer between the home run fence and neighbouring homes.
    • New comfort station with change rooms / concession / picnic area - to house mechanical requirements for the Splash Pad,
    • New Zero spillage LED Musco lighting on the lower diamond.
    • Resurface the tennis courts, new lines and fencing.
    • Upgrades to a regulation size Soccer field
    • Multi-use stone dust trail system.
    • Upgrades to the gymnasium to include – sound system, additional basketball nets, floor sockets for additional sport poles, wall padding, and additional storage room.
    • New equipment storage building.
    • Connect to Municipal Sewer and water.- New electrical service.
    • New Accessible playground (in conjunction with Parents Council)
    • Splash Pad (in conjunction with Breslau Lions Club)
    • The extensive growth that has occurred in Breslau over the past decade has established a need for an increase in both services and public facilities to the settlement.
  • New partnerships must be formed and innovative ventures must be considered that pool our resources to facilitate new public infrastructure, services and amenities in our region.
  • Catholic School Board approached Township informally in early 2013 after receiving funding from the Province to replace St Boniface School in Maryhill
    • 2 story school, no higher than the existing gym, with a footprint of 18,836 sq ft on the ground floor and 12,000 sq ft on the upper (room for expansion)
    • 250 student spaces (currently St. Boniface has 120 students)
    • 5000 sq ft shared public library
    • Outdoor classroom / sitting area
    • Outdoor basketball court.
    • WCDSB extended an official expression of interest to the Township in July 2014

New Catholic School Proposal
Thank you Breslau for engaging in respectful debate and dialog.  We are defined by how we treat those who disagree with us.  Let us all be defined well!

Wednesday, 4 February 2015

Protect Green Space Call to Action

(photo credit Lindsay Murray)

It has been a week since I posted my open letter to the Township of Woolwich and the Waterloo Catholic District School Board regarding the building of a new Catholic school in Breslau.  It has been a pretty active week on this issue and I have had a chance to think a lot about it.  My letter has received almost 500 page views.  I am still not happy about it and have numerous concerns.  On the positive side, I have become aware of the passion that Breslau residents have for their town.  Below are just a few excerpts from discussions on this building project.

I am concerned about the "sharing" of the community centre as I don't think that can work and community programs will be compromised. -Sharon
Breslau is the designated area for future growth of Waterloo region. Our needs will increase with the population. Putting a school there not only drastically reduces our green space, but it severely limits any potential options for expanding the community centre in future. -Bill
I'd love for the community centre to remain as is. There is enough unused space on the far end of Shallow Creek and at the end of Andover where the future development board is for the WCDSB construct a new educational facility. -Ashley
Memorial Park is the only parkland we have in Riverland. My children love to play and run in that field (daytime hours) as well as the playground. The community centre has great day programs that will be compromised if the school is to take over. It's a loose loose situation personally for me and for many in the community! -Michelle
My issue is way more then it just backing onto other houses, I think people also need to think about everything as a whole not just one aspect. -Samantha
I definitely do not want a school there. I too back onto the park and I like it that way, don't really want to see all that lovely green space become pavement and building. -Kat

I have contacted Mayor Shantz, Councillor Shantz and Councillor Martin and sent them a link to my letter.  Both Ward 3 councillors replied to me and informed me that more information would be made available at the February 26 meeting in the Community Centre at 7:00pm.  They both informed me that they only learned of these plans a few weeks ago so all of this is pretty new.  To prepare for this meeting I have created a petition to urge the WCDSB and the Township of Woolwich to choose an undeveloped location for the new school.  To gauge how many individuals do not support this location.  Breslau needs Memorial Park to remain a public park allowing access to everyone at all times of the day.

I want to emphasize that I am encouraged by the cooperation and collaboration between the township and the school board.  I am excited about the construction of a library, however, we need green space in our communities, now more than ever, as Breslau continues to expand.  If this school is built on a new undeveloped location our community will get more green space.  That is a win - win.

With the understanding that we have not heard the entire story about this project and that we will probably learn more about it at the meeting, here is petition.

We urge the Township of Woolwich and the WCDSB to build the new school on undeveloped land not on the green space of Breslau Memorial Park.
If you are interested in signing the petition click the link above.  Please share to other members of our community who may also be interested in this project.

I support Breslau Memorial Park upgrades, I support a much needed library facility in our ever growing town, I support forward thinking development in Breslau, I support the construction of a school, I do not support this location.

Thanks for reading.

UPDATE: This was just sent to me from the township.