Toronto to build its largest community centre, and not everyone is happy

Toronto to build its largest community centre, and not everyone is happy

Members of a central Don Mills residents’ group say they won’t stop fighting the city as officials are set to build what could be Toronto’s largest community centre.

They’re even prepared to take the city to court over the issue.

Toronto’s executive committee voted unanimously July 4 to approve a new 125,000-square-foot community centre at the former site of electronic manufacturer Celestica at Don Mills Rd. and Eglinton Ave. E. The new centre will sit on a 5.5-acre parcel of land that will be turned into parkland.

The problem arises from a 2010 agreement between the city, Cadillac Fairview and Don Mills Residents Inc. That agreement stipulated that Cadillac Fairview would build a number of tall residential towers around the Shops at Don Mills site at Don Mills Rd. and Lawrence Ave. E. and would provide land for a community centre within the residential development, plus the landlord also provided $17 million in Section 37 funding to the city to build that centre.

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In exchange, Cadillac Fairview would receive the aging, city-owned Don Mills Civitan Arena once construction of the community centre started, so Cadillac Fairvew could build more residential buildings.

The city decision will take those Section 37 dollars, indexed to inflation, meaning it’s worth about $21 million now, out of the Don Mills and Lawrence area and lump it into the regional community centre project at Eglinton.

Members of the residents’ group said the city has needlessly pitted communities against each other when no one on the DMRI objects to the larger Celestica-site project.

“We’re saying, build your community centre down there, we don’t care. Go for it, go crazy, but don’t steal our money for our community centre,” said Dorothy Pestell, a DMRI member.

She added that the new condo towers, of which she’s now a resident, were marketed with information that a local community centre would be ready by 2020. The condos were built with fewer amenities (such as no swimming pools), because of the proximity to the future public-access community centre.

“I’m frustrated we’re not getting our community centre,” Pestell said.

She noted the residents’ group will continue fighting the city, including delegating to the full city council at its July 16 meeting, where the final decision on the issue is set to take place.

Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong (Ward 16, Don Valley East), who represents the area, initially supported the smaller centre but changed his tune in light of information coming from city staff.

At the executive committee, he said the city would have to build an even smaller facility than initially planned at 48,570 square feet, because of new design standards, a smaller community centre would be unable to serve the central Don Mills population, not to mention the surrounding communities that don’t have a community centre.

He said it wouldn’t be cost-effective to build two sites as it’s cheaper to build and operate a single larger facility, which can offer more programs and attract more users. Minnan-Wong said the $21 million in Section 37 money is not enough to build the smaller centre, and the two sites are only about one kilometre away from each other, meaning it’s accessible to residents living near Lawrence too.

“I understand the appeal of a smaller community centre in the heart of their community, but what do you do based on all the information that is presented to this committee? What’s the right thing to do?” Minnan-Wong said at the July 4 meeting.

Dominik Kurek is a reporter with Reach him via email:

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