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Taskforce split on Breslau school proposal

The bulk of the community either opposed or indifferent to the project, a taskforce looking into selling Breslau parkland to house a new Catholic elementary school is recommending Woolwich go ahead with it.

The split was apparent in the committee itself, with only three of seven voting members in favour, while two are opposed and two undecided even after months of study.

Mulling over a report Tuesday night, councillors said they needed more information before making a final decision.

Presenting a pair of options – essentially yes or no – to council, the taskforce’s “yes” recommendation includes a list of caveats, including limits on expansion to the school site, mitigating traffic concerns by staggering the bell times between the new Catholic school and the existing public school, and the addition of a second playground on school property accessible to the community.

The township needs to know if the Waterloo Catholic District School Board will go along with the committee’s recommendations before voting on the issue, councillors decided, expecting to come back to the issue on September 29.

The plan to sell parkland to the school board has been a divisive issue since it was first made public earlier this year. Even after township efforts to get the word out, the community remains divided.

Informal canvassing of households in Breslau by taskforce members netted 312 responses. Of those, 36.5 per cent were in favour, 34.6 per cent opposed and 21.5 per cent undecided. The remaining 7.4 per cent didn’t answer or register an opinion. The group also held a public consultation meeting attended by some 60 people. All told, about 400 residents participated in the feedback process.

Taskforce chair Sandra Hanmer said the group had hoped for a clear message from residents, but even its members remained split despite all the meetings and information available to them.

“I was hoping that there would be more definitive – over 50 per cent,” she said.

The proposal under consideration would see Woolwich Township sell a portion of land in Breslau Memorial Park to the WCDSB. The deal will provide for $1.75 million in upgrades to the park and community centre, as well as community access to new facilities, including a 5,000-square-foot library operated by the Region of Waterloo.

If the school project goes ahead, the plan is to construct a new building that would provide washrooms, a concession stand and house the mechanical plant for a community-built splash pad.

Other upgrades to the park should the larger project proceed include relocating the lower baseball diamond to provide a buffer between the home run fence and neighbouring homes, new lighting, resurfacing the tennis courts and installing new fencing, upgrades to the soccer field, improvements to the parking lot and creating a multi-use trail system.

In addition, the school board would pay for upgrades to the community centre in order to accommodate a shared-use agreement with the township.

While some residents say they’d be happy with the upgrades to the park – many of which the township budget won’t allow for in the same timeframe – others are worried about the loss of green space and the potential conflict between school and public use of the facilities.

Among the concerns is the loss of parkland and the potential to lose more should the board need to expand the school, Hanmer noted. That’s why the taskforce would like to see limits on the school site, and assurances the building is a suitable size to begin with rather than relying on portables in short order.

Picking up on that thread, Lindsay Ford, WCDSB’s manager of planning, told councillors the board has no problem with limits built into site plans, noting that is the case at other schools in the region.

As for the size of the building, schools are typically constructed to accommodate the expected long-term population rather than peak enrolment – predicting the future becomes difficult, she said. Ford added that the school will be designed for 250 students, replacing St. Boniface school in Maryhill which has a current enrolment of 130.

“We believe there’s lots of wiggle room,” she said.

“We never look to expand outward,” Ford added of fears the school would eventually request more parkland, noting that formal restrictions on expansion, say no more than four portables, for instance, could be built into the deal.

“We can live with that. If you need to put a limit on it, put a limit on it.”

Along with the school board’s commitments, councillors will have to weigh a considerable amount of community scepticism about the project. The deal has met with much opposition and ambivalence.

“Much of the community is still not in favour of this proposal,” argued Breslau resident Elizabeth Siddorn in addressing council Tuesday night, expressing “disappointment” with the amount of public consultation.

Like many residents surveyed, she said she’s worried about the loss of green space and the plan to share amenities in the park which runs the risk of losing use of the facilities during the day when school is in session.

Questions around those concerns, along with worries about traffic and safety, remain largely unanswered.

“It’s the unknown that people have trouble with,” said Coun. Murray Martin, who sat on the taskforce but didn’t vote on any of the recommendations.

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