The Toronto District School Board has put a hold on plans to sell two schools on three hectares of land at the corner of Bloor and Dufferin streets.
Instead, the board's real estate arm, which usually disposes of its surplus property, will study over the next two months how the site could be fashioned into a community hub, an idea recently promoted by Premier Kathleen Wynne.
A year ago, the board declared Bloor Collegiate Institute and Kent Senior Public School surplus. The Toronto Catholic District School Board made an offer, but the province has not yet instructed the TDSB to accept or reject it.
The board in April directed Toronto Lands Corp. to defer the sale and create a plan for how the property could house social services and agencies.
The community hub idea gained political momentum in March, when Ms. Wynne created an advisory group to study how public services, such as education, health care and child, youth and senior programs, could be centralized and co-ordinated in single locations.
The plan garnered overwhelming approval on April 16 from 80 people at a public meeting at Bloor Collegiate. New Ward 9 school trustee Marit Stiles received an ovation from a crowd that contained many familiar faces from the more acrimonious meetings held last year, when the board announced that schools would be sold.
Toronto Lands Corp. CEO Daryl Sage noted a friendlier atmosphere in the room. "I'm used to setting up by the exit door," he told The Globe and Mail after taking the floor to lay out the next steps.
"Disposing of public lands doesn't really improve the health of a community. Once that land is gone, it's gone. We have the opportunity to pursue something different here. Let's take a bigger look and see what we can come up with. In June, we'll report to the board on the direction we want to take," Mr. Sage said.
He said he does not want to limit what agencies or facilities might be involved, but possible partners might include senior service agencies, child-care centres, municipal affairs offices, health-care clinics and sports and recreation facilities.
"Interconnectivity is what we want to advance here," Mr. Sage said. "Consolidation of services might be cost effective."
Ward 18 councillor Ana Bailao said the city will be as involved as possible. She pointed out that most community hub tenants would need to pay their own way. "No one has much money, but if we all come together to be smarter about the assets we have, maybe true, city-building innovation can happen here."
She said the community also needs green space, swimming pools and room for local social agencies, such as Sistering, the South Asian Community Centre and Working Women.
The latter already uses Bloor Collegiate classrooms to tutor 120 high school students each Saturday. Working Women's executive director Marcie Ponte says an integrated education centre that included a community college campus to benefit the area's high school students would be ideal.
She said she would be fine with a portion of the land being sold to a private developer for residential housing, preferably rental units. "I'm not opposed to selling some of that land if it would help build or create a fabulous school."
Many in the crowd also said some development would be acceptable if it helped pay for community services, such as a multicultural language centre, a homeless shelter and sports and recreation facilities.
Ministry of Education spokesperson Nilani Logeswaran said the ministry is aware of the conversation the board has started and is awaiting the outcome.
Mr. Sage reminded the crowd that the board has a capital expenses backlog of more than $3-billion and that the land is still officially designated as surplus. Still, he said if partners come with funding, he believes the city, the province and the school board might come up with a formula that can work elsewhere.
"What we learn at this demonstration site, we can apply across the city, to make these sites work, long term, for the benefit of all communities. We want to push this hard, to feed what the Premier wants to do across the province."