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Ontario freezes funds for major school building projects in Toronto

Kindergarten students at St. Thomas More Catholic School in Scarborough, Ont.

Kevin Van Paassen/The Globe and Mail/Kevin Van Paassen/The Globe and Mail

The Toronto District School Board has been told it will not get any more funds from the province for major new construction projects.

Trustees were irate at the revelation, which was made at a board meeting late Wednesday, putting construction at more than a dozen schools buildings on hold and leaving trustees worried about the impact on full-day kindergarten sites that require major construction.

"I can't express my horror," said trustee Pamela Gough.

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"I'm deeply, deeply disappointed," said trustee Mari Rutka, whose ward is dealing with overcrowding. "We're going to literally have schools bursting at the seams."

Schools such as Avondale Public School, in Ms. Rutka's ward, will need to double in size in order have enough room to accommodate overcrowding that already exists plus a full-day kindergarten program.

Chair Chris Bolton and TDSB staff met with Ministry of Education officials Tuesday to discuss the funding freeze. He said the ministry told them that the TDSB's construction costs run over budget 25 per cent of the time, and that Toronto's Catholic board is managing to build schools much more affordably.

The province said full-day kindergarten construction wouldn't be impacted but also said it would have to review whether it will fund large-scale projects. The board will be required to re-think construction at many full-day kindergarten sites schedules to open in the fall of 2013 and 2014.

In a letter to the board, ministry officials said they would continue to fund smaller renovations.

"The ministry will continue to review and provide the board with approvals to proceed on smaller scale projects, particularly related to full-day kindergarten," it read.

"However, given the seriousness of the current situation, the ministry will not provide the board with approval to proceed on any new major capital projects," until it has a plan to eliminate its capital project deficit and "can demonstrate that it has the necessary controls firmly in place to prevent future cost over– runs."

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The ministry based its decision partly on budget overruns on renovations to Nelson Mandela Public School. The downtown school is over 100 years old and the budget for the project has nearly doubled, from an initial projected cost of $16-million to $30-million.

The board is also facing criticism for letting its contractors charge exorbitant amounts for small construction projects, and wasting taxpayer dollars.

"It's not a case of dysfunction, it's a matter of becoming an efficient and effective organization that can change with the times... a little more rapidly," Mr. Bolton said.

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Education reporter

Kate Hammer started her journalism career in New York, chasing crime and breaking news for The New York Times. She came to the Globe and Mail in 2008 to do much of the same and ended up investigating allegations of animal cruelty and mismanagement at the Toronto Humane Society. More


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