Public officials battle over Columbus Centre’s fate

Catholic school board trustee calls on MPP to save building in public statement.


Published:

Mike Colle (with megaphone) at a protest to save the Columbus Centre last year.

Image courtesy of Mike Colle’s office

A Toronto Catholic District School Board (TCDSB) trustee issued a strongly worded public statement in December calling on Mike Colle, MPP Eglinton-Lawrence, to take action to spare the Columbus Centre from the wrecking ball.The centre has been an institution for the Italian-Canadian community for nearly 40 years.

In the open letter to Colle, Ward 5 TCDSB trustee Maria Rizzo accused him of refusing to speak with her and “acting like a petulant child” in his “zeal to get re-elected.” 

“I am asking that you start using inspiration rather than manipulation to close the divide in our community if you are at all concerned about the ugly and alarming turn we have witnessed in the Dufferin-Lawrence neighbourhoods we represent,” she wrote. “On the assumption that you actually want to save the ‘heart and soul’ of the Columbus Centre, then your government must declare the land where Columbus Centre is situated ‘of interest’ to the province and our country,” she wrote. 

But Colle, who said he received a copy of the letter on Dec. 13, 2017, questioned the timing of Rizzo’s action as the issue is currently in front of the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB).

“It’s a little bit late to ask for a discussion,” Colle said. “I would like, first of all, for the application to demolish the Columbus Centre to be withdrawn by the Catholic school board.”

In January 2017, Villa Charities submitted a redevelopment plan for the site at 901 Lawrence Ave. W. near Dufferin Street to the City of Toronto. The plan proposes to raze the beloved community centre and replace it with a new facility as well as build a new Catholic high school for Dante Alighieri Academy nearby. The $70 million project was later appealed to the OMB, and Toronto City Council will oppose it at the hearing. 

Villa Charities CEO Anthony DiCaita suggested the fate of the centre is unclear as his organization was granted an adjournment at the OMB so Villa Charities can continue its community consultation process. 

“Everything’s on the table,” DiCaita explained, “including preserving the existing Columbus Centre in some way,” he said. “We’re going to hear what the community has identified as some of the issues that are important to them, and then both the school board and Villa Charities will provide a response that we think will hopefully address as many of those concerns as possible,” he added. 

In the meantime, City of Toronto staff is preparing to release a report on the potential heritage value of the site to the North York Community Council.

“There’s a huge history to it,” said Cathie Ferguson, a senior city planner. “That [report] will reveal what parts, if any, of the building are worthy of preservation.” 

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