Vaughan Road Academy getting second life as school but community calls for 'hub' centre

The 90-year-old Vaughan Road Academy will once again have students next fall but residents and advocates say what's really needed is a "community hub" with health and education services.

Oakwood-Vaughan community organizers cite city report and need

Vaughan Road Academy is getting a second life as a school in 2018 but community members are calling on the TDSB for a bigger project to include the neighbourhood. (Toronto District School Board)

The Toronto District School Board (TDSB) announced Thursday night that Vaughan Road Academy will once again have students roaming its hallways in the fall of 2018 — a decision that comes mere months after the building was closed due to underuse. 

The announcement disappointed community organizers, who are calling for a reinvention of the space that would turn the 90-year-old building into a "community hub," providing recreational activities and health services for the Oakwood-Vaughan area. 

"This place is being used by other communities and we don't have a school. And we don't have a community hub," said Bill Worrell, chair of the Oakwood Vaughan Neighbourhood Action Partnership (OVNAP).

TDSB, which owns the structure and the lot the former school sits on, confirmed to residents at a community meeting, that approximately 750 students from Davisville Junior Public School and Spectrum Alternative Senior School will temporarily use parts of Vaughan Road Academy, starting in September 2018.

That's when construction will be underway for a replacement school in Davisville Village. 

Community members met with TDSB representatives on Thursday night to discuss the future of Vaughan Road Academy. (Adrian Cheung/CBC News)

Vaughan Road Academy officially closed on June 30 after enrolment plummeted to 200 students during the 2016/2017 school year. 

TDSB representatives at the meeting assured residents that the school would not be sold and that the board had "no definitive plans beyond" catering to new students in 2018.

Representatives also said the building could be a "revolving door" for schools across Toronto, in need of space in the future. 

Since its closure, OVNAP have been campaigning TDSB and the province to turn Vaughan Road Academy into a "hub" that meets the needs of the neighbourhood. 

"We have youth who have nothing to do, we have a lot of aging seniors who don't speak any English ... they need some kind of community gathering spot," Worrell said. 

Bill Worrell (left), Sue Sneyd and Lyba Spring are members of the Oakwood Vaughan Nieghbourhood Action Partnership, which has campaigned for a community 'hub' to help with existing needs in the neighbourhood. (Adrian Cheung/CBC News)

A 2016 report from the City of Toronto's Planning Department agreed that there's a lack of community services in Oakwood-Vaughan, adding that there is a "significant shortage of community space in the area...this facility would be appropriate for 'variety village' use of space."

Sue Sneyd, also a member of OVNAP, pointed to adult education programs as an example of what could be housed at Vaughan Road Academy. 

"TDSB has adult education programs in a school near Dufferin and Lawrence that is standing room only. We have an empty school here," Sneyd said. 

"We could be using the school right here. We don't understand why those options aren't being looked at."

Lack of funding poses problem

Members of OVNAP said they've essentially offered TDSB a "third option" in the form of the community centre idea.

But a lack of funding could pose a major problem for programs at the envisioned community hub. 

Worrell said "the province needs to come up with funding supports for school boards. They also need to change the rules whereby school boards are under pressure to surplus their properties."

The Ontario government has supported the idea of community hubs and has called on local school boards to be of assistance. But its plans currently do not carry official funding structures.

For the time being, organizers like Sneyd said they'll take solace in the fact that many in the Oakwood-Vaughan community are banding together for a larger cause. 

"Even more so with the questions [posed to TDSB] because that meant the TDSB heard from community members."