Tuesday, 8 September 2015

WCDSB New Breslau School - Update

The saga of the new school proposal from the WCDSB continues.  Tonight I attended another Township of Woolwich council meeting, if you are ever interested in how our municipal government works I would strongly encourage you to check out the Council Meeting section of the Township of Woolwich website. I chose to attend this meeting because Sandra Hanmer, our Task Force chair, presented to council our final report.

If you haven't been following this story the Breslau/Waterloo Catholic District School Board (WCDSB) Project Task Force was established by the Township of Woolwich Council at its March 31, 2015 meeting.  We are a committee of residents from Breslau who were tasked to look at more detail into a proposal from the WCDSB to purchase 4 acres of parkland in the middle of the Riverland community for the purpose of building a new Catholic elementary school.  More detail about the task force can be viewed in my State of the Park Address.

Sandra presented to council our findings, you can review the final report on your own if you are interested in further detail.  In my opinion the coles notes summary is as follows:
  • The task force was split 3 in support, 2 undecided, and 2 against the project
  • Pubic opinion was split 36.5% in support, 21.5% undecided, and 34.6% against the project
    • Task force members spoke to 312 individuals by going door-to-door in Breslau's three distinct communities (Riverland, Hopewell, Old Breslau)
  • The core components of this project have not changed since the first public meeting on February 26, 2015
    • Selling of 4 acres for $1.75 million
    • Expanding the school library and make it a public library
    • Upgrades to the community centre gym
    • Using proceeds of the sale to fund recreational upgrades to the park
All of the Councillors expressed a little disappointment and frustration that the split was as close as it was.  Despite the intense effort that we put in as the task force we still had 2 undecided members and only 1 person on the task force was swayed from their original opinion.

Following this presentation there were 2 official delegations.  First was a resident expressing her opposition to the project and second was the Manager of Planning for the WCBSB who expressed excitement to proceed with this project.  Councillor Bauman was interested in staff reviewing the recommendations from the task force on recommendation one to sell the land.
  • Limiting portables on site to 4
  • Requiring school board to build a secondary accessible play structure to ensure the community has access to the play structure in the public park
  • Getting results from the WCDSB funded traffic study (Completed June 2015)
  • Staggering bell times with WDSB to alleviate traffic into the community
The school board representative explained that the school they were closing (St. Boniface) has a population of 130, they plan to build for 250 with upper floor expansion of a 4-6 more class rooms and felt that a limit of 4 portables was doable but 6 would be better.  The WCDSB plan for 10 students from every 100 residential homes.  They would not be looking for more land even in another location in Breslau.  Councillor Hahn asked a great question, "[Since the public meeting on Feb 6] have there been any changed to the general plan?"  He didn't get an answer to this question but the answer is, "No." Nothing about the project has changed, this means the "public consultation" means "public information"  there isn't really hasn't been a dialog between residents and the project.

This is where the meeting turned to the funny (from my perspective), an unregistered delegation requested to speak and was given permission to do so.  He asked the council when they expected to have a motion on the floor that council would then vote on for this proposal.  No one had an answer for him, not even an approximate timeline, nothing!  I found this slightly bizarre, but hey what do I know.  I believe Councillor Bauman was saying something about staff recommendations or report on something, I didn't quite catch it.

As Council was trying to direct staff to what kind of information they were needed the question came back to the school board representative about time lines.  She mentioned that the best case scenario for their development process was 2 years from the time they get an official approval to when they can build the school.  Since schools are very time sensitive for a September 1 start date she request that a decision gets made as soon as possible.

Shortly after this and a mere 8 minutes after they said they couldn't say when they would table a motion to be voted on, our Mayor decided she liked recommendation one and stated, "If council has the appetite to accept it then [she] would recommend they adopt recommendation one."  I know that sounds strange and slightly on the other side of rational when they just told the delegation they would have no way of knowing when a motion would be on the floor to vote on and our Mayor decides 8 minutes later that now would be a good time.  Despite the extremely close split on public opinion, despite numerous time people accused the council that this was a done deal.  I just about lost my cool.  I had been telling residents for several months, this is not a done deal, trust our elected officials, they want to hear from you.  Then just like that on a whim she tries to put a motion on the floor.  There was a bit of confusion at this point but the proceedings were stopped due to a scheduled break.  

Nice unused spaced at the end
 of Andover Dr. in Brelsau
I had to go out to the hall to collect myself, was this actually happening.  I have admitted to myself throughout this whole process that I do not speak for all of Breslau (at least now I know I speak for about a third).  I have my views and others have theirs and this project is a win in the finance department for a cash strapped township.  I knew that I would most likely lose this battle but I didn't expect this.  I didn't expect our Mayor to try and slip in an unscheduled motion to sell 4 acres of parkland without even telling Breslau about it.  I was told that this was an information session not a vote.  If this was a vote I would have been more persuasive to those that talked to me about it.  I felt stunned.

Don't worry things get even more interesting from here.  On the resumption after the break, wisely there was no one to second the Mayors motion.  Councillor Bauman stated while he may agree on the recommendation this was not the appropriate place for a motion and a vote. Councillor Bauman worked to direct staff while the others stayed quiet.  Mayor Shantz immediately backtracked and agreed with that approach.  Then Councillor Merlihan mentioned the report came out late on a long weekend, there has not been an appropriate amount of time for feedback.  After this back and forth *magically* they were able to determine that the staff report would come back for the September 29 meeting and I am assuming there will be a motion on the floor during that meeting.  I guess the delegation that asked for the timeline got his question answered in the end.

So attention Breslau, regardless of your position on this proposal you need to check out the Council Meeting web page for the September 29 meeting.  I can assure you there will be a vote.  If you have new information or would like to highlight information in the report please register as a delegation and share with the Council. Delegations can register up to noon on the day of the meeting with the clerks division. Written comments can be emailed in on the Thursday before the meeting.

The next key part of information on this project also came out tonight (as if the above wasn't enough). In order to sell the land they need to declare the land surplus according to their procedures.  This would involve a public notice and then 30 days for feedback.  This procedure must happen after council votes in favour of selling the land.  So at the earliest the land could be considered surplus and sold at the end of October 2015.

Sunrise over the park
This post has taken far to long to write and now I am sleepy and I am not sure that any of it makes any sense.  I apologize for any of the creative grammar and spelling I may have used, feel free to point them out in the comments. I felt it was important to get this information out to the Breslau community as soon as I could.  I have many more questions that I don't have time to get into:

  1. Will this create a precedent which essentially puts a "For Sale" sign on our underused public parkland in Woolwich?
  2. How do we justify forcing developers to "donate" 5% of their assets as public parks and then we turn around and sell them for a profit?
  3. Those who oppose the project are asking those who want to have the school to wait a few years and your school will be here regardless, if you build on this park now, it is gone forever.
  4. Even if the school is built on the park, you can expect it to open in 2018.  I wonder how soon they could build on other open lands when the Secondary plan is approved?  Might be a year later 2019 and we still have a park?  Who knows?
  5. What happens after the land is declared surplus?  Can anyone buy it?  If I win the lotto max this weekend and I offer 2 million for surplus land, then what?
I do not want to come across as an "out of control bully" or a disgruntled task force member who didn't get his way.  I want to know how we can make more people happy in Breslau then just 36.5%.  Do you have an idea, can we find a deal that benefits everyone or will we just have winners and losers and we are OK with that?  We need to grow Breslau as a single community.  How?


  1. Great synoposis Matthew! I really appreciate your efforts and keeping us all informed!

    We'll share this and get the message out to Breslau as best we can.

    Thank you again for your volunteer work.

    1. Thanks for taking the time to read, I appreciate your support. My goal was to ensure that this project was thoroughly reviewed and the public was kept informed.

  2. Having been to these meetings "from the other side" (the design side) this is a great summary of what happens. For the record, designers propose only what the board (their client) directs them to propose, so if they haven't updated their plans, then you have the board's stance on the matter (which doesn't usually mean it's the views of the designer). The board is usually talking about this with city planners as they go; none of the city officials should be surprised at what's being presented. So this means the plan that hasn't changed is likely the plan that is approved by the key financial parties. But since your taxes give them the purse strings, then your voice should be heard.

    1. Thanks for your comments Heather. I know that there is so much that goes into these types of projects and politics is always tricky. I appreciate your perspective.

  3. Thanks Matthew for well written summary. I appreciate you keeping our community informed. Who/where do we write to? I have heard from many that say, this is a done deal - which sickens me. I think we need parkland far more than we need a Catholic school - not to mention the traffic burden this will create. Much appreciative of your efforts.

  4. I have made a google doc with the contact info for each councillor. Please follow this link: Councillor Contacts