Province halts tear down of Columbus Centre

Letter from Ministry of Education prompts a new path for Catholic board


Published:

Notice outside of the Columbus Centre

A letter issued by the new Ontario Minister of Education, Indira Naidoo-Harris, ended a long-debated plan to raze the Columbus Centre at Dufferin Street and Lawrence Avenue West and replace it with another community centre as well as the new location of Dante Alighieri Academy. 

In the letter, released Feb. 15, the minister wrote, “I am writing to inform you that the Ministry of Education will not support a school project that allows for the demolition of the historic Columbus Centre.” 

This proposed development was a partnership effort between the Toronto Catholic District School Board (TCDSB) and Villa Charities, the owners of the 10-acre property. 

In 2011, the school board received $32 million from the province to rebuild Dante Alighieri Academy that was facing issues of overcrowding, with the expectation that the adjacent Regina Mundi Catholic School, also in need of more space, would move into Dante’s existing facility upon completion.  

“The letter was essentially an ultimatum to the school board, which said that, if you continue down this path, you run the risk of losing your $32 million,” said Anthony DiCaita, CEO of Villa Charities. 

“The letter was essentially an ultimatum to the school board.”

According to DiCaita, a community consultation, commissioned by the Ministry of Education last year, showed that the majority of the people living in the area supported the redevelopment.

“Before any of that had a chance to come to the board, the Minister of Education’s letter pre-empted it and pulled the rug out from under everybody and basically said, cease and desist,” he said. 

Despite consultations, the redevelopment plan had many residents concerned about losing the historic community centre. Protests were held by supporters in the neighbourhood calling for the deal to be quashed. Member of provincial parliament Mike Colle was one of many opponents.

“They wanted to tear down a historic site,” said Colle. “We’ve been fighting for the last year. That’s when we discovered the secret deal that they’d made.”

According to Maria Rizzo, TCDSB trustee for the area, the board must go back to the drawing board and look at new ways to unify the school community of Dante Alighieri Academy with the neglected Regina Mundi Catholic School. 

“For 10 years, we’ve ignored [the students of Regina Mundi] because we always thought they would go into the Dante building and we wouldn’t need anything,” said Rizzo. “Now that becomes a bigger problem.”

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Jessica Wei is an associate editor for Post City. She has lived and worked as a journalist in Montreal, Hong Kong and, now, Toronto. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

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