Sunday, 1 March 2015

Breslau Post Meeting Synopsis - Trust Issues

We had a public Information Session to discuss the new school proposal by the WCDSB and the Township of Woolwich.  The meeting was on Thursday, Feb 26 and I have been pouring over everything that happened and all the information that was presented trying to come up with a coherent response.  From my perspectives there were two main response themes: Student Safety and Financial Details / Discrepancies.  I would say there was 200-250 people at the meeting and from my count 2 individuals came forward to say they supported this plan.
“There are people in the community that would like the school there, unfortunately we didn't hear from as many of those yesterday” says Manuel da Silva, WCDSB Chair. “We heard from many people who were opposed to the school.”
I am not entirely sure where Mr. da Silva was expecting the support to come from.  Information that was presented to us stated that 125 students are enrolled in St. Boniface currently.  Not to be to stereotypical here but I think that those would be multiple student families so 60 or so families.  Next I would say not all of them are excited about leaving Maryhill so they wouldn't be excited about supporting this proposal.  So lets be generous and say that 40 of those families are in Breslau and are excited about moving the school to this location and they all showed up and voiced their support at the meeting.  They would have been overwhelmed by the dozens of speakers against.  I suppose that some Breslau residents would have looked at the upside of the library and the park upgrades and felt that this is something we should consider as one brave speaker pointed out.  The challenge with that second category of support will be addressed below as the financial aspects of this project and what is being proposed for upgrades has a few glaring problems.

Student Safety

I would like to discuss the concerns of student safety that some of the speakers raised.  We know and were assured by the WCDSB that the lock down policy would be in effect during the school day.  The gymnasium would not be affected by this lock down but the connection between the school and gym would be.  Residents were informed that extra supervision could be used to ensure student safety in the shared gym space while occupied by students.  The school board cited the example of St. Daniel Catholic Elementary School and the Stanley Park Community Centre as an example of this partnership.

Increased traffic was also sighted as a safety concern and it was rebutted by the envious and significantly large parking lot that the school would have access to.  As stated by the board, no school in our region has access to such a parking lot.  The traffic issue was where the irony of moving from Maryhill to Breslau was brought up.  The board stated that approximately 58/125 where bussed into Maryhill so wouldn't the ratio be similar if you bussed all the Maryhill kids to Breslau?  This was countered by the idea that Breslau was expanding and thus more students would be living in the area, which was countered by a new subdivision was just approved in Maryhill.  It just became a very cyclical argument that had less to do with facts then it appeared.

The next major safety issue was the idea of fencing.  The board assured that the kindergarten children would have a small fenced play area as is normal for our region.  However, since something magical happens between SK and Grade 1 the main school property would not be fenced and would instead rely on teacher supervision to ensure that students stayed on school property during outdoor recreation periods.  This lead to a discussion about the current play structure in the park and who would get priority use of it.  This point became increasingly unclear as it was said that if no one was using it then the school could have access.  Which really makes absolutely no sense, if a community kid came by then all the school kids would have to leave and go back to school property?  This led to all kids of questions about what recreation facilities (climbing structures) would be within school property and what would potential students have access to?  This wasn't clarified very well for me and I "zoned out for a second".  A point was made that the soccer field would be upgraded with money from the sale of the parkland.  This didn't immediately sit well with residents because it appeared that the school board was buying a part of the park and the proceeds went to upgrade a soccer field that it could use without paying for it (not a good start when talking about potential upgrades, more on that to come).

Financial Details / Discrepancies

The main thrust of opposition was fixed upon financial claims and it was the point that I also spoke on.  Although, I will have to admit I didn't do very well at keeping my own emotions in check and I got a bit carried away and I would like to get a second chance at that one but I digress.  Many of the residents challenged the Townships ultimatum that if we want any of the proposed upgrades to happen, including the library, we had to accept this proposal from the school board.  The proceeds from the sale were set at 1.75 million and without this money there would be no room in capital budgets for anything in the park.  If we did not go ahead with this project it would take 20 years to make up the capital. Speaker after speaker came to the microphone in the centre of the room and directly challenged this statement.

Residents were told that Elmira was getting upgrades because they had community involvement and community fundraising.  Which I have two arguments that I would like to raise on that issue:
  1. Despite the capital fundraising by residents the township is still voluntarily taking on thousands of dollars per year in maintenance of these projects.  This money comes from residents taxes and it appears as favouritism to Elmira.
  2. The Lions club has been working and fighting for a splash pad far before the this project was on the books.  I have recently learned that the township told them to hold off on initiating fundraising at this time?  Is that because they don't want to take on a maintenance budget for a Breslau project? Since no one wants to answer we can only assume, and people on the project don't want to say anything because they "still need to work with the township".  What that sounds like to me is a highschool bully situation but since I am not involved I can only just whisper these things to myself.
One courageous resident come to the microphone and demanded to know how the park that currently has a maintenance building, pavilion, tuck shop, single washroom, tennis courts, etc. was ever allowed to deteriorate to the point that 1.75 million is needed just to put it back together.  I guess Abraham Lincoln has a lesson the township needed to learn:
You cannot escape the responsibility of tomorrow by evading it today.

Residents pushed the township to explain what was done with the development fees charged to Empire Homes and Thomasfield, where does all the money go from building permits, and most importantly where does 24% from the annual property tax go that over 1000 homes pay in Breslau every year?  For the homes in old Breslau they have their own private septic systems, and for the new homes are all on brand new water and sewer.  Where does the money the township makes in Breslau go?  The township responded to these concerns to say that money goes into the capital budgets and it is distributed across the township to ensure places that don't have high development also get upgrades.  I fully support this and I am ok with my taxes supporting the township and it didn't come to Breslau this time (or anytime in the past 10 years).  However, as a speaker asked, "How the heck do we make Breslau a Priority?" One gentleman had an estimate of 1.5 million collected in development fees in the last 6 or so years.  I didn't fully understand these details but his point was there was money there just not allocated to Breslau.  Once the legal mess is sorted, Empire and Thomasfiled will go back to building houses and paying fees.  We won't need to wait 20 years we just need to wait until somebody in the township cares enough to make Breslau a priority.  This is where I have to impart my parental wisdom to the township by quoting something that I often tell my own children:

I make predictions on your future behaviour by what you have done in the past.  This is how I know that you aren't going to clean up that mess and it is too close to bed time to play with lego.
Ok, so maybe the lego part wasn't needed here but I think you get what I am saying.  The park has pieces that can't be used because of their disrepair.  How are we to believe that once you sell a capital asset of green space to get the coveted 1.75 that you will be able to maintain it?  What are you going to sell off in 10 years to fix the park again, you have nothing much left to sell?  It comes down to trust and the residents of Breslau do not trust the township offices in Elmira (in case you weren't aware).

To further illustrate this point on trust, whenever the documents and staff talk about what the school board will get it is stated clearly.  When you flip the coin and ask what residents getting we hear a long list of potential upgrades that will take further consultation to prioritise.  Upgrades that haven't even been properly costed out, meaning that maybe none of them are actually possible once we connect the community centre and new comfort station to the municipal services.  A clear example of lying to the residents with their fingers crossed behind their back.  Well, we said potential and you could get these things.  I would rather block this project full stop then find out what goodies I will get at the end of the rainbow.

Initially I was opposed to the project because of my view out my back window and losing the premium that I paid for the privilege.  Now I oppose the project even more because the township has given me no reason to support it.  They hold the list of upgrades above my head saying you could have these if you behave and move a side.  This is the way you influence a toddler not fully engaged citizens (this is where I should mention the horrid picture of the park that was used by the township in their presentation but it would take too long to explain).  The township could refund me twice my park premium and I would return it to them since they clearly need the money.  This is no longer about that.  It is about trust and mutual relationship that we don't have.  If we had open communication and mutual trust with the township Breslau residents would be standing up and asking, "What can we do?"

  • Should we lobby business for donations?
  • Should we demand better municipal support from our Provincial and Federal Members of Parliament
  • Should we organize fundraising committees?
  • Should we investigate infrastructure grants?
Instead we get accept what we tell you or you get nothing.  I think we need to change this conversation.  Tell me where we should go and I will work on the support!

In the media

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