Villeray parents decry condo plans next to overcrowded school

A developer wants to build condos next to École Hélène-Boullé in the Villeray neighbourhood, but parents fear it will overwhelm the already overcrowded school.

Petition calls for borough to block rezoning of property purchased by condo developer

Gillian Woodford, left, Félix-Etienne Trépanier, middle, and Sophie Sylvie Gagné are on the parents committee at École Hélène-Boullé in Villeray, where Woodford's children, Gabriel and Jane, go to school. (CBC)

A developer wants to build condos next to École Hélène-Boullé in Montreal's Villeray neighbourhood, but parents fear it will overwhelm the already overcrowded school.

"They're packed like sardines," said Gillian Woodford, whose children, Gabriel, eight, and Jane, six, are enrolled at the school.

Woodford, who is on the school's parents committee, is part of an effort to push the new borough administration to block a developer's request to rezone the property near the school. 

The property on Casgrain Avenue next to the school's playground was sold by the Société des Missions Etrangères religious order in June.

About 400 people have since signed a petition supporting to block the developer's request. They are also asking the borough and school board, the Commission scolaire de Montréal (CSDM), to repurpose the building for École Hélène-Boullé.

The petition was submitted at the Villeray–Saint-Michel–Parc-Extension borough's council meeting Tuesday, the first since a new administration headed by Projet Montréal's Giuliana Fumagalli was voted in Nov. 5.

The building next to École Hélène-Boullé was bought by a condo developer. (CBC)

Parents behind the petition hope that if the zoning request is blocked, the land will go back up for sale with the possibility of being purchased by the CSDM.

The developer that bought it, Knightsbridge, says it plans to build an 11-unit residential project. The units are already for sale, listed at between $215,000 and $1.15 million, on the company's website.

Condos could overwhelm already packed school: parents

​"We were disappointed and surprised when we saw the giant sign that they were going to build condos when we have such a serious need for more space at our school," Woodford told CBC News Tuesday.

The school is at 125 per cent of its student capacity, meaning there are about 100 more children enrolled than the school was built for, she said.

That lack of space has resulted in kids having two separate lunch periods and recesses, and when all the students are outside they are not allowed to run, she said.

A developer wants to build condos next to École Hélène-Boullé in the Villeray neighbourhood, but parents fear it will overwhelm the already overcrowded school. (CBC)

Woodford said she hopes the borough will work with the school board to seize an opportunity so close to the school she says would be rare if it were to go up for sale again.

"This is the kind of thing that they need to do to get families to stay in Montreal," she said, referring to Projet Montréal's election promise it would do everything it could to keep more families from moving out of the city.

School board already earmarked other buildings

Catherine Harel Bourdon, the chair of the CSDM, said that opportunity has already passed and that the school board didn't move on it because the religious order hadn't offered the land when it went up for sale last year.

Harel Bourdon said even if the borough moved to block the zoning change request by the developer, there's not much the school board could do in the short term.

First of all, it isn't for sale anymore, she said.

Catherine Harel Bourdon, president of the Commission scolaire de Montréal, says the school board already has its eyes on other buildings in the neighbourhood. (CBC)

The school board has also already targeted other buildings in the neighbourhood it would like convert for school purposes, she added.

"We understand the parents … because we know that in the medium term we're going to have needs in the area," Harel Bourdon said. 

Woodford argues the need is already there, though. 

"They can't just keep cramming more families into Villeray but not improve the situations in the schools," she said.

Developer says old building not solution to overcrowding

Knightsbridge answered a CBC request for comment saying it was sensitive to those needs, what with a number of parents on its staff. 

Knightsbridge is already selling the yet-to-be-built condos on its website. École Hélène-Boullé can be seen to the right of the project's rendering. (

"We are aware that several schools reach occupancy rates of 120 to 130 per cent, and that the lack of classrooms and their state, is alarming, considering the issue of retention of families in urban areas," said Simon Boyer, a company associate.

Boyer added he doesn't think buying old buildings that aren't up to code is part of the solution. 

"We are aware of the reality and take the issue to heart," Boyer said.

with files from Sudha Krishnan