School Fields Fuel Conflict in Ontario

Ottawa & Toronto Hold Lessons for Our Neighbourhood

Sports facilities at two Ontario schools should raise red flags for Notre Dame’s neighbours and Vancouver City Council.

Residents who live near these facilities are complaining of high levels of noise and increased traffic and of once peaceful neighbourhoods becoming unpleasant places to live. There have been court challenges. And local city councils are belatedly scrambling to deal with the problems.

These schools are thousands of miles from here, but we could be soon confronting the very same problems.

The schools in question are Immaculata High School in Ottawa and St. Patrick’s Catholic Secondary School in Toronto.

Both schools have agreements with private sports companies which allow them access to their fields when the school is not using them.

At Immaculata in Ottawa, a private company built an artificial turf field on school property at no cost to the school. Now the company, Ottawa Footy Sevens, runs games 7 days a week after school, until 11:00 pm.

In Toronto, St. Patrick’s school has an agreement with Razor Management Inc., to rent the facility after school hours until 11:00 pm. The neighbours are suing over the noise and want a curfew on hours of use. They say the field is in use as early as 8:00 am and as late as 11:00 pm.

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Notre Dame warning sign

Here in Vancouver, Notre Dame Regional Secondary School has been mostly silent on what if might do if it’s allowed to build McCarthy Stadium. Operating letters sent by the school to the City suggest the field is for student use. However a line at the bottom of the letter opens the door for the private school to do anything it likes with the facility.

Under the heading “Community Use” in their September 2018 “Formal Operational Letter” to the City of Vancouver they wrote: “While additional community use is not in the current school plans, it is possible. The school will work with neighbourhood groups seeking access.

This sounds benign, but it’s not really about neighbourhood access. “Additional community use” could be anything Notre Dame likes and needs.

If the past is any clue, the school will need money. Especially after spending millions of dollars building McCarthy Stadium and the new parking lot.

Finding extra revenue where it can is a long tradition at Notre Dame. Not only does the school tap parents for extra fees, it organizes “walk-a-thons” and other fund raising activities.

They also do what they can to generate cash from the property itself. For many years they ran Bingo games on Saturday evenings. They also rented the old gravel sports field for parking during the PNE. And until recently, the parking lot was full each summer with yellow school buses. Presently, Notre Dame is renting out it’s gymnasium on weekends.

We know that one of the main reasons the school decided to re-build instead of shutting down and moving, was a desire to put itself on a secure financial footing.

Mr. William PJ McCarthy set this goal when he took on planning for the redevelopment of Notre Dame in 2002.

In 2016, McCarthy, a multi-millionaire developer, won a real estate award for his years of service to Notre Dame. A piece about the award appeared on pages 34-36 of the 2017 Summer edition of Input Magazine, (the official publication of the Real Estate Institute of BC).

The glowing article talks about why the decision was made to rebuild Notre Dame,  rather call it quits. It was to “create new buildings and financing proformas that would ensure the school’s ongoing financial and operations viability.” (p.36)

The article goes on to quote Mr. McCarthy as saying “You cannot serve the spiritual mission of the church without first addressing the temporal requirements. There has to be a business plan to support the mission plan”. (p.36)

The stadium is going to be a key part of that business plan.

The schools in Ottawa and Toronto show how viable the model is. McCarthy Stadium would be an excellent rental facility. With its bleachers and viewing platforms, the stadium would attract a lot of interest from sports groups and others.

Notre Dame is a private school and the stadium would be built on private property. The stadium would be one of the main “financing proformas” ensuring the school’s “ongoing financial and operations viability.”

As we’ve seen in Ottawa, and now in Toronto, the success of one property owner has come at the expense of many others. Residents in both cities talk about how the sports facilities have ruined their neighbourhoods.

Notre Dame does not have to answer to this community about how it runs itself.

Vancouver City Council & Planning Staff should take a hard look at Immaculata and St. Patrick’s while considering Notre Dame’s development application. It would be better to control the project ahead of time, rather than try and pick up the pieces in the years ahead. There is no reason for us to repeat the mistakes being made in other jurisdictions.

A decision on McCarthy Stadium is coming soon. The Development Permit Board meets on Monday,  June 10th at 3:00. The Notre Dame application is the only item on the agenda. Please try and be there.

As this may be our final chance to make our case, we’re hoping you will also register to speak against the application. If you wish to do so, you must contact the Development Permit Board Assistant, Kathy Cermeno. You can call her at 604-873-7770 or by email at kathy.cermeno@vancouver.ca

Written submissions are also accepted. Please email Kathy Cermeno or send a letter to her attention at City Hall​, ​453 West 12th Ave​.​Vancouver, BC​ ​V5Y 1V4

You can find our more about the Vancouver Development Permit Board at vancouver.ca/dpboard.

If you are not comfortable speaking in public, please come out and support those who are and let the Board members see that support.

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