FEBRUARY 22, 2018
THE TORONTO CATHOLIC DISTRICT SCHOOL BOARD
voted to sever their partnership with Villa Charities Inc'
On Feb.23, Villa Charities announced,
"redevelopment of the Columbus Centre ...will not be going forward."
This website describes the issues in the battle to save the Columbus Centre
A subsidiary organization CAC - Columbus Advisory Council is now in place
to monitor Villa Charities operations and decisions, hold their board to account
and to raise funding to return the Columbus Centre to its former glory.
Hundreds turned out for CASA's September 27th, 2017 rally
The Columbus Centre is a community centre at 901 Lawrence Avenue West in Toronto. It has been a central gathering place for Ontario's 900,000 Italians since 1980 when former Premier Bill Davis donated the land, along with a closed detention centre on it, to the Italian Canadian Benevolent Corporation (the predecessor of Villa Charities Corporation).
Millions of dollars, raised by the Italian Community, were added to millions of dollars from all levels of government to construct the community centre. It quickly became the envy of other community centres in Ontario's cultural mosaic. Over the years, it has become a site where every Canadian Prime Minister, Ontario Premier and many other Canadian and foreign dignitaries have met with the Italian community.
Through legal manipulations, a self-appointed board of directors of Villa Charities gained control of the not-for-profit Columbus Centre. In the last few years, without consulting the greater Italian community or the 4,000 members of the Columbus Centre, Villa Charities completed plans to build a new joint use building with the Toronto Catholic District School Board. To do this Dante Alighieri secondary school and the Columbus Centre would both have to be demolished. The new building would be owned by the school board and the Columbus Centre would become a tenant.
A number of Villa Charities directors have connections with condo developers. Confidential plans, that CASA obtained, indicate that as many as 3,000 condos would be built on land that is now owned by the Columbus Centre and the school board. Land that would only become available with the demolition of the two structures. Despite their denials that a condo development is planned, their following architectural rendering shows what would replace the beautiful campus. The highest building would be 26 stories high. The yellow building with the hole in the roof would be the proposed Columbus Centre.
With condo units selling in excess of $400,000, those condo developers, with the right connections, could expect to make profits of close to half a billion dollars if they can get their hands on this prime real estate. Have some Villa Charities board members been given a an incentive to proceed despite the community's protests to their plans? No one in the community ever sought a replacement for the Columbus Centre, nor were they ever consulted during the planning process.
The plans reveal a much smaller Columbus Centre facility with few of the amenities that the 4,000 members have enjoyed for almost 40 years. The magnificent, mature trees in the Columbus Centre's park like setting would disappear along with the tennis courts and the pleasant patio overlooking the campus (see the video below). To find a lush, green oasis in the middle of a large, densely populated city is unusual and treasured. As well, the impressive and unique Carrier Art Gallery, with its ramps encircling the rotunda's three story display galleries, would be destroyed. This is one of the largest private art galleries in Canada. The soaring, impressive, marble clad grand entrance lobby to the Columbus Centre would also disappear.
The Honourable Michael Colle, Member of the Provincial Parliament for the area feels he was mislead when in 2011 he obtained $32,800,000 in emergency buildings funds for Dante Alighieri Academy so they could build a new school to relieve their overcrowded conditions. Dante Alighieri has never used this $32,800,000. Six years later, with 40% fewer students and many vacant schools sitting unused, the need for this money seems to have evaporated.
Seeing an opportunity, Villa Charities approached the school board with a proposal to sell the Columbus Centre to the Toronto Catholic District School Board for, allegedly, $30,000,000. Villa Charities would become tenants in the new joint facility that would replace both the existing Columbus Centre and Dante Alighieri. The ultimate objective seems to be, to sell the remaining vacant land to condo developers. The fact that the property was sold by the Ontario government for $2, on the expressed consideration, that it could only be resold to a "community service organization" seems to have been ignored. Being a government department, the school board does not qualify as suitable buyer.
Seeing the overwhelming opposition to this proposed new facility, the Province's Minister of Education has now frozen the $32,800,000 until "overwhelming" community support for its construction can be obtained. Being months away from both municipal and provincial elections, the governments is very responsive to community protests. Toronto mayor, John Tory, is just one of the many politicians that made an appearance at the CASA rally on September 27th to show support for saving the Columbus Centre.
Dr. Dorothy Pullan, a psychologist who spent 25 years with the Toronto Board of Education, was appalled that the Catholic School Board would even consider putting their students in danger by giving the public uncontrolled access to a proposed new school structure shared with the Columbus Centre. She predicts that hundreds of school children using the joint athletic facility with 4,000 adults would be a disaster waiting to happen.
When Villa Charities presented their zoning plans to North York councillors in June of 2017, the 14 councillors unanimously rejected the plans. When these same plans were presented to all 44 City of Toronto councillor in July, they also unanimously rejected the plans. Furthermore they unanimously agreed to support an application that would make the Columbus Centre an official heritage site. This would seriously inhibit the demolition of the building.
In June, Villa Charities, anticipating they would not get approval from the City, submitted their plans to the Ontario Municipal Board. This was an attempt to get around the city's democratic review of their plans. The City, angered by this attempt to go around them, then approved funding for the City Solicitor to protest the Villa Charities plans at the Ontario Municipal Board hearings if and when they are held. An OMB hearing for December 2017 was cancelled as they waited for the Heritage consultant's recommendations to be tabled at a North York council meeting in early 2018.
The Villa Charities maneuvering has come into a great deal of heated criticism from local politicians. MPP, Michael Colle, publicly called upon the self-appointed directors of Villa Charities to resign and for a new democratically elected board, nominated by the community, to replace them. You can see him doing this on the Youtube video "NY Council cc Meeting" (a link is on the "VIDEO" page of this website) Several of the city councilors at this meeting also strongly voice their opposition to Villa Charities planned facility and the destruction of the Columbus Centre.
Driving in the streets around the Columbus Centre, you encounter what seems to be hundreds of "SAVE THE COLUMBUS CENTRE" lawn signs. The households close to the Columbus Centre lands do not want the building of thousands of condo units to destroy the peace and harmony of their neighbourhood.
The elderly, living in the senior's assisted apartment buildings and the Villa Columbo old age home, also dread the years of noise and confusion they would face if thousands of condos were built on the Columbus Centre campus which they share. Many of them with limited mobility now enjoy easy, safe access to this quiet green campus, its cafe patio and its other features. Although these senior apartment buildings are owned by Villa Charities, the directors seem to feel little compassion for the seniors who inhabit them.
Legally, it seems the self-appointed Villa Charities board of directors can not be forced to resign. A self serving change to their charter by the directors in 2014, without the consent of any community, permitted this obstacle, which is totally alien to what the original Columbus Centre founders would have wanted. They wanted a board that was truly responsive to the community. The Columbus Centre was to be a catalyst for enduring friendships, shared memories and good times for everyone, in a sense the home (or casa) for an extended family.
A building does not have to be beautiful to achieve great strength but to remove access to such an important building, for even a few years during construction would be a disaster. It would scatter the Columbus Centre community far and wide never again to share in the bonds of friendship.
A new building is unnecessary. We must not allow it to be demolished.
CASA ASKS YOU TO JOIN THE HUNDREDS OF OTHERS WHO HAVE DONATED THEIR TIME AND MONEY TO PRESERVING WHAT IS A VERY IMPORTANT PART OF THEIR LIVES. JOIN CASA IN THIS FIGHT TO SAVE THE COLUMBUS CENTRE FAMILY.
SEND YOUR EMAIL ADDRESS TO email@example.com SO WE CAN KEEP YOU INFORMED
HEAR THE MUSIC
SEE SENIORS ON THE COLUMBUS CENTRE PATIO
IN THE FOLLOWING VIDEO