Developer takes action after video shows problem at construction site next to John Fisher school

A developer is extending the hours of two safety officers at a construction site next to a midtown Toronto elementary school after a parent posted a YouTube video showing easy access to the site through an open gate.

Parents complain after video shows open gate to construction site next to school

A still from a YouTube video showing an open gate to a construction site next to John Fisher Junior Public School in Toronto. Parents are concerned kids at the school can walk right into the site and get hurt. (YouTube)

A developer is extending the hours of two safety officers at a construction site next to a midtown Toronto elementary school after a parent posted a YouTube video showing access to the site through an open gate.

Inside the fence, the video shows a large excavator behind a guard rail, working in a pit. Parents are concerned children from the school could walk into the site and possibly get hurt.

"Oh my god, oh my god, that's terrifying. That is so scary," says a mother interviewed in the video. The controversy follows months of protests by parents who wanted the city to prevent the apartment building from being built next to John Fisher Public School.

Nathan Katz, senior vice-president, planning and development at KG Group, which is building the high-rise beside the school at 40 Erskine Ave., said Wednesday that the safety officers, stationed at the front gates of the construction site, will now be at the site longer. 

"Effective immediately, we will extend their hours beyond the closure of the construction site each day to include school pick up times. This means they will be on site longer each day to monitor site access even after construction work has stopped for the day," Katz said in an email.

He said the workers are already there during school drop-off times to ensure vehicles enter and leave the site safely and that no one enters the site without permission. He said a construction superintendent is on the site as well during school drop-off and pick-up times. 

"His role is to oversee activities at the construction site and further ensure safety and security. He will continue to be on site throughout the day," Katz said.

But Stavros Rougas, a parent of a Grade 3 student at John Fisher who posted a 52-second video entitled "Dangerous Open Construction Next to School," says a safety guard should have been there when he filmed the video at 3:25 p.m. on Tuesday.

Rougas said a child could have entered the side through the open gate when no one was around. 
Parent Stavros Rougas asks Toronto Mayor John Tory: 'Is this what you consider secure?' (YouTube)

"It's pickup time, it's 3:25 p.m. There's no one to be seen other than someone who is working down in the pit," he told CBC Toronto. "You basically have an unsupervised work site. And the gate is not locked. Even worse than not locked, it's actually open."

Rougas said he is confused by the developer's reply, which he doesn't think deals with the issue because it's not just about scheduling.

"We're just left hanging. We just want some basic security."

He said his concern is now more with the city. "It doesn't seem to have the capacity to enforce any standards," he said.

The video shows a mother and son walking beside the fence and being asked by Rougas what they think of the fence being open. Then the camera pans to inside the fence, where the excavator is digging into the ground, deep inside a pit. 

"So we are here after school and the gate is wide open," Rougas says. "I've just walked in right here. Right in here, right open, right here. My question is for John Tory: Is this what you consider secure?" 
A still from a YouTube video shows an excavator digging in a pit behind a guard rail. (YouTube)

Then Rougas says he has a question for Coun. Jaye Robinson: "Is this what we have set up for our kids, to walk by construction sites that are wide open after school?  People are frustrated."

According to Katz, the construction superintendent was closing down the site at the time that the video was taken and was giving instructions to a contractor inside the gate. 

"Unfortunately, the individual who captured the video footage did not realize that our site superintendent was in fact on site. Importantly, the video clearly shows that there is an additional security safety fence surrounding the construction site itself," Katz said.

Mayor John Tory said in a statement released on Thursday that he did fight for "highest standards" for the project and has asked the developer to address the issue.

"Safety of the children at the nearby school is the most important thing and has been the mayor's driving concern around this development," the statement reads. 
Coun. Jaye Robinson said if the developer violates the mitigation plan again, the city could fine the company, revoke work permits or issue a stop work order. (Mike Cole/CBC)

For her part, Robinson said the video has left her disappointed.

"We've worked very hard over the last six months to ensure the safety of the John Fisher students. We actually put together one of the most impressive construction mitigation plans that certainly city council has ever seen, the longest, the most detailed, as well as four pages of motions unanimously approved by city council. So we really locked down all aspects of safety," she said.

"This is why we didn't want this development here. At the same time, the developer has come forward and said they made a mistake and they are committed to working with the parent community and my office and city staff going forward."

Robinson said the mitigation plan was not being followed, and if a gate is left open and unsupervised again, the city could fine the developer, revoke permits or issue stop work orders.

"If the infractions continue, we are going to get very heavy handed and we are going to move to fining the developer because we can't really take any risks. It's too close to a junior public school."

With files from Adrian Cheung