Last month the University of Toronto rejected a $48-million proposal to refurbish its affiliated private secondary school, University of Toronto Schools, and stated it will not be renewing the school’s lease at 371 Bloor Street. The lease runs until 2021, at which point the school, after a century at its current location, will have to find a new home. The university will use the site for its own unspecified purposes.
“The affiliation agreement specified that a committee of five individuals would review the proposal for the redevelopment submitted by UTS and make the decision whether to take it to the Governing Council,” said Cathy Riggall, U of T’s VP business affairs. “The committee was established as provided in the agreement. We met, considered the proposal provided, considered a wide range of issues that we felt were relevant and came to a conclusion.”
Prior to the rejection, the $48-million refurbishment plan proposed rebuilding the current UTS building by implementing a modern auditorium, gymnasium, and swimming pool while retaining the façade of the original building.
Since the decision was publicly announced April 15, groups have mobilized against the committee’s resolution. Leading the backlash is the Liberal strategist and UTS alumnus John Duffy, who describes the university’s choice as “puzzling.”
“The way the university decision-making process is usually designed is to produce consensus by an open and transparent process,” said Duffy. “I would like to know why that opportunity wasn’t taken. Secondly, there hasn’t been a full consultation. Thirdly, does the university have a proposal for this site? Riggall says they don’t […] but if they do, surely that proposal should be publicly evaluated against the UTS proposal.
“A public institution like the University of Toronto normally takes competitive bids. If they have a different proposal in mind let’s hold it up to the light along with the UTS proposal in an open and transparent and accountable process, and have the university governance structure decide which is best.”
When asked to describe U of T’s redevelopment plan for the site, Riggall replied by e-mail that “there are no current plans.”
The school’s principal, Michaele Robertson, wonders how the school’s consciousness of holding a tentative location will affect students over the coming years. “The timeline is not immediate, in the sense that we have until 2021 to try a location and do the renovations we would inevitably need to do,” said Robertson.
“I think of course there will be a greater degree of apprehension than what we have seen up until now, and that will probably continue until we have a new home. People in our community are going to have difficulty comprehending being in a different location. That is the hard part for the existing community.”
David Rounthwaite, a UTS alumnus and building committee chair, was one of the first informed of the university’s decision, who then notified current students and alumni. “It is the intention of UTS to maintain a very strong relationship with the university because one of the unique aspects about the school is the connection with the university; a relationship that provides students with a number of benefits, that include access to the athletic facilities, the libraries, special programs that operate on a bilateral basis, such as the recent program that was done at the [Munk School of Global Affairs] in conjunction with UTS,” said Rounthwaite. “We don’t see the relationship being eroded, but changing and evolving.”
University administration has stated its support in helping to find a new location for the school. “We have a very experienced real estate team and good connections into the development community. We have offered to provide this expertise to UTS to help them find a new site,” said Riggall.
When asked if lobbying against U of T’s decision will hurt future negotiations between the two schools, Duffy said: “I can’t imagine the university would ever want to retaliate against some citizen or community activism regarding decision making. That just doesn’t seem like the U of T I know.
“When U of T makes a big land use and institutional decision, it is supposed to go through a number of channels. That’s normal, and this doesn’t look like the normal procedure. All we want is a normal procedure,” said Duffy.