Neighbours unhappy with school planned for Breslau parkland

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With 182 signatures and counting, a petition condemning plans by the Township of Woolwich and the Waterloo Catholic District School Board to build an elementary school in Breslau Memorial Park is gaining steam.

Matthew VanderMeer launched an online petition opposing a plan hatched by the township and WCDSB to build a school in Breslau Memorial Park. [Scott Barber / The Observer]
Matthew VanderMeer launched an online petition opposing a plan hatched by the township and WCDSB to build a school in Breslau Memorial Park. [Scott Barber / The Observer]
The petition was launched online by Matthew VanderMeer, a Norwich Road resident with property backing onto the parkland.

“For the homeowners that back onto the space, we were under the impression that this was finished, that this green space was here to stay,” VanderMeer said, noting the $5,000 premium he paid the developer for his home’s location. “We have the community gym and the community centre there and we thought over time they might add tennis courts and a splash pad. And so we were really taken by surprise when we saw these plans to put a building there.”

Along with a JK-to-Grade 8 school that will replace St. Boniface Catholic Elementary School in Maryhill, the plans call for improvements to existing township facilities, which will be shared with their new neighbour.

The Region of Waterloo Library is also involved, as plans call for a 5,000-square-foot shared-use library.

Plans, including preliminary designs, will be unveiled to the public at a meeting February 26.

Woolwich Mayor Sandy Shantz called the proposal “an excellent opportunity to upgrade the park and to bring a good, decent-sized library to Breslau.”

She added, “We don’t have the funds to do the upgrades that we would see as a result of this partnership. The school board will pay us for the land and then we will use that money for the upgrades to the park. Could we do some minor upgrades (without selling land to the WCDSB), maybe some minor upgrades, but the extent of the upgrades would be nowhere near what we will be able to so as a result of this partnership. We could say that this isn’t going to work and the school would have to find another site, and that will be that. But you won’t see major upgrades to the park then, we just don’t have the funds for that.”

The park upgrades include the relocation of the lower baseball diamond to provide a buffer between the home run fence and neighbouring homes; new lighting for the ball diamond; the addition of a “comfort station” with change rooms, a concession and picnic area; resurfacing of the tennis courts along with fresh painting and additional fencing; expanding the soccer pitch to regulation size; stone dust trails; new sound system, basketball nets and storage for the gymnasium; an equipment storage building; an accessible playground in conjunction with the parents council; and a splash pad in cooperation with the Breslau Lions Club.

While VanderMeer supports the need for a new school and library in Breslau, he questions why it needs to come at the expense of the community’s already-limited parkland.

“Why does it need to be in that spot?” he wondered. “If Breslau was completely built out and all the land was used up and the planners were considering putting the school way out in the middle of nowhere or in the park right in the centre of Breslau, I would be less upset about it. But there is undeveloped land 100 feet down that road. And when I say undeveloped I mean it has already been leveled and excavated so it’s not like a nice green space with trees or anything, it is just piles of rocks, dirt and weeds. Why can’t they go just a little deeper in there and put the school where there is nothing else currently?”

Shantz countered those concerns, emphasizing the relatively small footprint the school facilities will make on the parkland.

“The parkland is 19.6 acres and only a very, very small portion of that will be taken up by the school,” she said. “There will be minimal green space disappearing. I think it’s in the neighbourhood of 15 acres of green space that will remain, so it’s not like we’re plunking the school in the middle of the park.”

The province has provided the WCDSB with $5.3 million for the new project. The school will be built for 250 students, with a target of opening in 2018.

The development is contingent on final approval from the board, Woolwich council and the Region of Waterloo.

A public consultation and information night is scheduled for February 26, 7 p.m. at the Breslau Community Centre on Andover Drive.