Assertions of win-win to the contrary, Woolwich’s determination to sell off Breslau parkland for a school project is looking like a no-win situation. A majority of councillors seem intent on pushing forward, nonetheless.
Opponents of the proposal have made a strong case for their position, enumerating at length the long list of negatives, real and potential. Supporters talk about the benefits of a new Catholic school in the community – the most vocal appear to be parents with children in the system who want a new building today rather than having to bus their kids to Maryhill. Woolwich councillors and staff in favour of the project are fixated on the money, which is essentially the deal’s only upside for the township and majority of residents alike.
The first thing that needs to be dealt with is acknowledging that a new school will be built, no matter what. Some rather disingenuous talk to the contrary, it will not take much longer to build on a nearby lot than it will to split Breslau Memorial Park in half to accommodate a facility there. In fact, the township option could end up being delayed by legal action, as residents ponder taking the dispute to the Ontario Municipal Board.
So, Breslau will have a new Catholic elementary school. That’s a non-issue for the township.
Likewise, there’s no reason there can’t be a public library as part of a new building, even if it’s not built in the park.
That leaves the township with the money – $1.75 million in cash, plus the costs of some upgrades to the community centre that will be borne by the Waterloo Catholic District School Board.
While nothing to sneeze at, the money amounts to very little when the big picture is taken into account. The funds are to be spent on infrastructure upgrades to the park, projects that could be financed over time by the township in conjunction with community fundraising, with the latter at risk according to opponents of the school board deal. Once the $1.75 million is spent, the township will have some new facilities that it will have to maintain, and which will eventually have to be replaced long after the money is gone and all but forgotten.
To reach that state, however, the township will have given up an irreplaceable asset: once the school is built, there’s no undoing it no matter how things turn out. The public will have been stripped of a long-term asset for a short-term financial game. Not, of course, that we haven’t seen that game before, as it’s a particular favourite of fiscally irresponsible governments of all stripes – we saw some of that sleight of hand with the “balanced” federal budget this year, and are watching the provincial government prepare to sell off longstanding public assets in a mad scramble to look less incompetent with money even as they waste billions on paying off public sector unions for their votes and Tory attack ads.
Back to the Woolwich situation, the big-picture reality of the proposed deal appears to be lost on most of the councillors and staff, who see only the money without putting either the funds or the project in perspective. They may have good reasons for their positions, but they’ve certainly not articulated them, nor have they contributed to the debate. If the deal does go through, any shortcomings lie entirely with them.