By Louise Morin | BOHICA: bend over, here it comes again.
Yes, Royal St. George’s College is back at it again; they will be resuming construction on March 14, 2011 for two weeks, then take a hiatus during the spring, resume the summer of 2011 and continue then until the fall of 2012 . . . and perhaps beyond, to complete the project Jane Jacobs famously called “bad Mel Lastman-era planning.”
And between RSGC’s indifference to bylaws and construction guidelines and the City’s inability or unwillingness to enforce them, the St. Alban’s Park neighbourhood can be forgiven for feeling abused.
But Adam Vaughan has decided to wade in where Olivia Chow wouldn’t, and has called a community meeting this coming Wednesday, February 16th at 7:00PM at Walmer Road Baptist Church to try to address some of the more contentious issues arising from the construction.
What are the issues?
1. Routing of construction vehicles through the neighbourhood
Adam Vaughan wants our input on the proposed route for the 500-plus construction vehicles which need to travel through the neighbourhood to the RSGC construction site. The first option would bring the trucks down Howland from Dupont to the RSGC campus, the second brings them in Barton from Bathurst and north up Albany–the wrong way on the one-way street; the third brings the trucks in Wells from Bathurst–the wrong way on one-way Wells–then south on Albany. In all three options, the trucks exit south on Albany and west on Barton out to Bathurst.
In an attempt to avoid having this issue divide the neighbourhood, I’ve heard some neighbours suggest that the trucks should rotate amongst the three routes. While I appreciate the spirit of compromise that motivates this suggestion, I’m against it. RSGC has been my neighbour for 23 years, and they’ve never failed to disappoint me during construction projects: they just don’t follow the rules. If they’re given a schedule of rotating routes, they are not going to comply; instead, we’re going to have trucks on all three routes all of the time.
Although it will be unpleasant for me personally (I live just a couple of doors north of the corner of Barton and Albany), I’m in favour of the trucks following option 2. It’s the shortest route in and out of the neighbourhood. It keeps the rest of the neighbourhood relatively safe and undisturbed. It will be easy to tell our kids where they can and can’t go without our supervision, to avoid trucks. And it will be crystal clear to RSGC the only route where their trucks are permitted.
2. Protocol and compensation for interruption of services .
RSGC says that they will need to interrupt services (hydro, water, gas, telephones, Internet) for up to six hours at a time, at various times during this project. Neighbours of St. Alban’s Park–the de facto residents’ association of the West Annex–has pressed RSGC to provide a schedule of the interruptions in advance. Neighbours also asked for details of RSGC’s plan to pay compensation to those financially inconvenienced by the interruptions.
In reply, RSGC wrote earlier this month “RSGC can’t speak to compensation as it relates to third parties. If neighbours have questions, we ask that they contact these utilities directly.”
This disingenuous response won’t do. RSGC has to speak to a protocol for advance notice and compensation for us at Wednesday’s community meeting.
3. Removal of portables
In 1996, RSGC promised to remove the two portable from their property in return for a variance to permit them to build addition for more classrooms. They built the addition but the portables were not removed.
In December 2010, RSGC moved the two portables, and pushed them up to the back fences of adjoining residential properties on the east side of Albany and the west side of Howland. In keeping with their philosophy that it is always better to beg for forgiveness than ask for permission, RSGC didn’t get the okay from the city before making the move. The city has since told them one of the portables must go.
Neighbours of St. Alban’s Park have asked that the portable–which is used only as a judo studio–be removed entirely from the site immediately; after all, it’s been improperly on the property for well over 10 years. RSGC wants an indulgence: they want to move the portable to the tarmac, facing Albany Avenue, pleading just “three more months”.
Given the long history of broken promises around the portables, yet more promises aren’t going to cut it. The portable has to go, now.
4. Community Committees
During the construction in the late 1990′s, early 2000′s, in 2007 and again in 2010, RSGC repeatedly breached bylaws and construction management guidelines, particularly those concerning hours of construction, weekend construction, dust, mud, and noise control, and traffic and parking control.
The OMB ordered that for this project, various mandatory committees be struck, and that neighbours have a seat on these committees–the Construction Committees, where RSGC can seek permission to break the rules in special circumstance; the Community Consultation Committee, where neighbours can take complaints and problems caused by the construction; and the Neighbourhood Liaison Group under the Traffic Demand Management Plan.
RSGC has funny notions about neighbourhood representatives on committees.
Up until now, without any consultation with the neighbourhood, RSGC has chosen the so-called neighbourhood representatives. RSGC has then refused to give the rest of us contact information for the neighbourhoods reps; they ignored Neighbours of St. Alban’s Park’s 2007 request for contact information, and mine made in the summer of 2010. And if these committees have ever met at all, RSGC has kept secret the date and place of their meetings and the results of their deliberations.
This farce can’t continue. The neighbourhood should get to choose neighbourhood representatives. We should be able to contact our representatives. We should be told in advance when committees will meet. We should be able to attend the meetings. Meeting agendas should be posted on the RSGC website in advance, and the minutes of the meetings promptly posted afterwards.
5. Enforcement of construction guidelines and bylaws
Councillor Vaughan’s office has asked someone from the City staff to come to to Wednesday’s meeting to explain to us why, project after project, RSGC has gotten away with breaking rules, and coach us on how we can get help from the city in the future.
In my many years as RSGC’s neighour, I’ve been to too many meetings where I hear RSGC’s ”sincere” apologies for past breaches, followed by their lavish promises that they’re going to change their behaviour–this time.
When the next round of construction begins, we get the same disappointing behaviours–construction on weekends and statutory holidays, construction noise well before 7AM and well after 7PM, sidewalks blocked with building materials and trucks, no dust or mud control, on-street parking taken by construction crews and equipment and RSGC students.
Personally, I believe that RSGC follows a deliberate strategy of apology. Why pay, for example, several thousand dollars on dust control when an apology later costs nothing?
RSGC recently mentioned their desire to build–at some point–a small greenhouse “of less than 100 square feet” on the south lawn of St. Alban’s the Martyr Cathedral, where the RSGC environmental club wants to grow plants.
It is important that we stop any expansion of RSGC sheds and bins onto the lawn of St. Alban’s the Martyr Cathedral. The Cathedral is a designated heritage building of tremendous historic significance.
Between the brutalist gym RSGC stuck on the Albany end of the Cathedral in the 1970′s, to the big bus layby stuck on the Howland side in 2007, and the various bits and pieces stuck here and there on the Cathedral in between, there only is one unobstructed view left of the Cathedral for public contemplation, that is the view from the east end of St. Alban’s Square.
RSGC filled the the north side of their property with many sheds, bins, and portables. Now that they’re converting that space to a playing field, they’re looking to the only open space left on their campus, the lawns on the south side of the cathedral. We must say no, and preserve what’s left of the view of this heritage site.
So as Jane Jacobs urged us, this we must remind RSGC on Wednesday night that there is a community here. If we all work together to make sure RSGC follows the rules, there’s no need for this latest project to become the same chaotic hell of those of the past.
Visit Jack Byrnes Hill’s photostream on Flickr.