The proposed closure of Prince Philip School would facilitate a socially corrosive education policy, disproportionately harm an existing community and produce significant environmental damage.
By Joe Minor
Published March 10, 2012
I think that this would be a mistake, and I think that the recommendations of the Accommodation Review Committee (that all three schools be kept open) makes more sense.
I want to start by saying that both of my children were educated within the HWDSB system. My son attended GR Allen, Dalewood, and Westdale and my daughter attended GR Allen, Dalewood, and now attends Westmount. Both have received a quality education in the HWDSB system.
My son is now attending the University of Toronto, and has found that his education within the HWDSB system prepared him well for his university studies. I would like to thank both the HWDSB and Trustee Bishop for their efforts in providing this quality education.
There are many reasons why closing Prince Phillip School would be a mistake. Most of these reasons can be grouped into three categories:
The HWDSB should not facilitate the implementation of a socially corrosive provincial education policy.
It has been a while since I was last told about the provincial policy that has foisted this "proposal" upon the HWDSB. As I recall, the policy is essentially: In order to build new schools, existing schools must be closed in order to produce an overall occupancy rate over a particular threshold.
I suspect that the policy is stated in somewhat more obfuscatory terms, but that is the net result at the "implementation" (victims') end of things.
This policy is fundamentally unfair to the long-established existing communities that have for years depended upon these schools. It is unfair to these communities to close their schools in order to provide new schools built on greenspace (frequently farmland) in low density areas at the edge of town.
It is not the fault of these older established communities that much recent development was poorly conceived without regard for the costs of providing services such as new schools.
In fact, many of these new developments had signs posted on them indicating that there were no schools and that the deal struck to allow the cheap development was that potential buyers would have to transport their students to existing schools.
The planning for these new developments was clearly deficient, but that is not a just reason to fix the resulting problems by destroying older communities by closing their schools.
I suspect that a careful analysis will show that the average income of the residents around the "schools to be closed" is lower than the average income of the residents around where the new schools are proposed to be built.
This means that the net result of the provincial policy is to use the strong arm of government to take from the poor to give to the rich. The HWDSB should not be an accomplice in this theft.
The HWDSB should instead focus its efforts on educating the provincial government about the harm this provincial policy is causing older communities, and ask governments to deal with the problems of sprawled development without arbitrarily taking from older communities. It is unfair to force these communities to pay for problems they had no role in creating.
Closing the school will harm the existing community.
Prince Phillip School is a long standing established pillar of support for the Ainslie Wood community. It is unfair to the residents of Ainslie Wood to close their school in a futile attempt to mitigate problems caused by sprawl development.
There are many costs that will be borne by the residents of Ainslie Wood if Prince Phillip school is closed.
I suspect that the "analysis" that led to the recommendation that the school be closed did not consider the costs associated with the extra transportation that will be required to move the students to GR Allen. These costs include lost time, air pollution (for those being moved by vehicles), and reduced life expectancy (e.g., accidents will happen, particularly for those walking across busy thoroughfares to and from school).
It makes no sense to force students to walk past a perfectly good (but arbitrarily closed) school in order to access a more distant school cloaked in traffic.
Now is a particularly stupid time to increase vehicular traffic to school. The costs for this transportation (e.g., the price of gasoline) are near historic highs and are expected to rise.
We are also being rapidly educated about the ever-increasing environmental costs (e.g., from CO2 and particulates) that will occur if the school is closed.
Closing the school will result in environmental damage, including to the habitat of Species At Risk.
Closing Prince Phillip School will cause double the usual damage that usually occurs due to a school closure.
The usual damage from a school closure results from the construction of a new school on greenspace (either farmland or wildlife habitat). If the new school is built on a field, then wildlife habitat for Species At Risk (e.g., bobolinks and meadowlarks) is destroyed.
If PPS is closed, then not only will this damage occur but additional damage will occur when the PPS students are moved to GR Allen, causing additional greenspace destroying construction there as well.
GR Allen is located in Churchill Park, which is part of Cootes Paradise. Cootes Paradise is an internationally recognized significant wildlife habitat.
Scientists at the Royal Botanical Gardens estimate that Cootes is losing a species every other year due to the fact that Cootes has been made too small by surrounding development. In order to slow the current extirpation ("local extinction") rate of 0.5 species per year, further losses of greenspace in Cootes/Churchill need to be curtailed.
The "Churchill Park Master Plan" process was told that if PPS is closed and the students are moved to GR Allen, then additional construction would need to take place in order to accommodate the growth at GR Allen.
In particular, the CPMP committee was told that the additional teachers would "require" additional parking and that this additional parking would "require" the paving of more greenspace within Churchill Park.
While the proposed pavement would destroy mostly grass, the environmental value of grass is far superior to pavement as a ground covering in a wildlife sanctuary like Cootes.
Pavement is directly polluting, particularly during construction but also when pollutants such as PAHs leach out on an ongoing basis and during maintenance. The vehicles parked on the pavement also drip toxic substances. Salt used on the pavement is another problem, but this is a minor issue compared to the others.
Replacing the pervious vegetated surface with an impervious cap has many negative effects on the hydrology of Cootes. If the runoff is directed into Cootes, the runoff would be both toxic and would cause erosion. If the runoff is directed into sewer systems, then this water would be lost to the Cootes ecosystem, causing problems for organisms downstream.
Grass also provides ecosystem services: it purifies water running over it and also purifies the air. Transpiration from grass also cools the air.
In contrast, pavement increases the urban heat island effect and is also releases pollutants. Pavement is also prime habitat for motorized vehicles, which cause greatly more pollution when they congregate on their preferred spots.
Closing PPS will then result in replacing vegetation that provides positive ecosystem services with pavement that causes pollution.
The grass that would be lost is also wildlife habitat, including for several Species At Risk. The grass in Churchill Park/Cootes Paradise provides a large hatch of both at least one lepidopteran and one dipteran species. These insects are then eaten by nighthawks, chimney swifts, and barn swallows (all Species At Risk).
While I have seen all of these species regularly in Churchill/Cootes, the species making most obvious use of insects from the Churchill Park grass is barn swallows. Barn swallows fly very low over the surface of the grass and pick insects off of the surface "on the fly".
One day, while walking to a soccer practice, I was surrounded by at least six barn swallows who flew tight circles around me in order to pick off the insects I was flushing off the grass. There is no doubt that the grass in Churchill Park is a feeding resource for this Species At Risk.
Pavement is literally dead space (actually worse: it causes harm that extends beyond its footprint). If PPS is closed and the result is more pavement in Churchill/Cootes, then the HWDSB will be complicit in the continued loss of species from Cootes Paradise.
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