Toronto's public schools are "old," in desperate need of repair, and the school board says it could start fixing these problems if the province allowed it to collect fees from condo developers.

Robin Pilkey, chair of the Toronto District School Board, told Metro Morning that one potential source of money for repairs is "education development charges." Fees that would be charged to developers for new school sites in order to make room for students from a new development. The board said in August that it needs an estimated $3.4 billion in total to repair its 588 schools.

"It is awful," Pilkey said Tuesday. "We are doing our best with what we have, but we're not printing money at one of our tech programs. We have to take the money that we get."

Pilkey, who described Toronto public schools as "old," said the Toronto Catholic District School Board is allowed to collect development charges under a provincial regulation because it doesn't have excess classroom space. The province has determined that the public board has excess classroom space in its elementary and secondary schools. 

Robin Pilkey

Robin Pilkey, the trustee for TDSB Ward 7, Parkdale High Park, is chair of the board. She says the state of public schools in Toronto is 'awful,' even though the city itself is wealthy. (Robin Pilkey/Twitter)

She said the TDSB does have more classroom space than it needs across the city and it is working to "level that out." 

"The problem is [the excess space] doesn't take into account the fact that there are areas of the city, particularly along the Bloor subway line and the Yonge subway line, where we are extremely overcrowded. There is severe overcrowding along some of the main arteries and will only get worse," she said.

"This is Toronto. Everywhere you turn around, there are condos going up," Pilkey said.

Development charges are calculated based on the number of units in a new building. Under the regulation, however, the money cannot be used for renovations and maintenance, she said.

"You are only allowed to take that money and buy land. The government could change that so that money could be used to build new schools and make repairs."

Toronto Northern Secondary School

Toronto's public schools, with an average age of 60 years, are in desperate need of repairs, the Toronto District School Board said after it launched an online guide that shows exactly what repairs are awaiting funding at each of its 588 schools. (Neil Herland/CBC)

The TDSB arrived at the $3.4 billion repair bill by adding up what repairing every item on its backlog list would cost. 

Pilkey said many of the needed repairs have to do with the "internal workings" of the buildings, such as heating and cooling systems, and "big money items," such as roofs. She said parents would see evidence of the need when they see paint peeling and that many schools lack curb appeal.

She blamed historic underfunding for the current state of public schools in the city. She said it has been hard to plan for repairs when funding has not been consistent, although the level has improved in recent years.

"There is a fear, I think, from some people in government that if the TDSB had development charges, they wouldn't close schools that they need to close, which is patently false," she said.

But Pilkey said, despite the TDSB's long term plans, closing schools is not an easy process. People in surrounding communities get upset when plans are announced to close schools.

"That's the reaction we often get, 'this is a historical property. Please don't take it down. My parents went to this school.' A lot of people have a lot of emotional attachment to their school," she said.

The TDSB, the largest school board in Canada, has about 245,000 students. Tuesday is the first day of classes.