Planning begins for construction of a new community school to replace Thomson CI and Bendale

As we announced on our alumni website last November, the final hurdles have been cleared to gain approval for a new collegiate to be built on the Bendale-Thomson-Donwood-Highbrook property. If planning and construction schedules are maintained, the new school will be open for the 2015-2016 academic year. See further details about the Bendale-Thomson Revitalization project on the TDSB web site.

Thomson principal, Soriana Mantini, shared her excitement for the future in a recent interview. However, since this is an alumni newsletter, you may wish to hear first about what will happen to the old school. Soriana was able to bring us up to date on those plans as well, and they may not include demolishing the building.

When a school building is declared redundant, other school boards have the first right of refusal on taking over the facilities. The Catholic Board and the two French Boards (Public and Catholic) have been informed of the plans. It may be that one of them will wish to move in after Thomson moves out. Failing that, the general public will then gain access. The Lawrence Ave. frontage is zoned for residential or commercial, but not high-rise, so a town house complex might be one possibility if the Board sells the property to a developer. One thing is certain: the final classes are slated to be held in June, 2015.

Present plans call for the new composite community school to be built on the part of the property between Highbrook-Donwood and the present Thomson playing field, to create a closely-knit JK- 12 campus. Donwood will become a JK-8 school, adding much of the Highbrook facility. Bendale will close (luckily, not before celebrating its 50th anniversary on May 11, 2013), but students living in the school area (about 300) will automatically move to the new school, and about 100 more will be able to choose Thomson if it offers programs they are taking at Bendale.

aerial-photo-of-school-property
[click on photo for enlarged view]

The programs at the new school will continue to include all the traditional courses. The developmental disabilities program will increase to six classes. There will be special programs in environmental studies, health and well being, and culinary arts. Tech studies will support these programs. One major change will be the elimination of the auto shop and an emphasis on construction skills instead. A greenhouse and urban farm are under discussion. The new facility will have two double gymnasia. Soriana, however, was disppointed to report that a “cafetorium” seems to be the best they can do for an assembly hall. It may be connected to a theatre arts room and able to be converted to a small lecture hall, but the music and drama people will likely not be happy. Unless a room is timetabled for use every day, it is hard to justify its inclusion. Businesses and other groups in the community have been invited to submit proposals (Co-Building Opportunities) for
sharing the costs of any program they would like to sponsor.

The planning is all being handled by a Local School Community Design Team: the principals, support staff, teachers, trustee, superintendent, community members and the architects. Because two schools are being replaced, total membership on the team reaches close to forty. They have had three meetings at press time,
normally one a month.

The team of ZAS Architects/Taylor Smyth Architects were chosen in September 2012, because they have a proven record of design excellence and of adhering to project budgets and schedules. They will design a 178,000 square foot building on 15 acres of land. The Ministry of Education has allocated $37.2 million dollars (and no more!) to the Toronto District School Board for the new school. That works out to a benchmark of $179.00 per square foot, considerably less than the Board has been used to. The architects, however, have been used to working within this limitation, and, after touring a number of their schools, Soriana is very impressed with the bright, positive atmosphere they create in the buildings. They are also masters at planning flexibility, so that spaces can be utilized in different ways, depending on need. The new school will also be a very “green” project. Expected capacity will be 1,509 students. Street access to the school will be gained by extending Rushley Dr. through the property to link up with a new roadway east from Midland Ave. on part of the Bendale site.

Our alumni hope for a “heritage area” honouring the two old schools may be limited by the projected budget and the fact that two schools are involved. But Soriana supports our other alumni wish: a final farewell “party” in 2015. She’d like to see planning for the new school completed and shovels in the ground before we tackle that project, but stay tuned! Watch our website for updates, or you can “Google Bendale-Thomson Project” to check developments.

- by Stan Farrow

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