Old brickyards a hive of activity

Community gardens? Ice rinks? Campfires and solar panels?

Four disparate elements that have come together thanks to the dreamers at Evergreen, the organization presently restoring the old brick-making site on the Bayview Extension, just west of Broadview Avenue.

The non-profit organization is in the last stages of an 18-month construction project that will turn the old industrial site into Canada’s largest environmentally-focused community centre.

The $55 million initiative, Evergreen Brick Works, will feature programs such as building a community garden, an employment program for people interested in pursuing a career in green jobs and a playground surrounded by nature instead of concrete.

Anthony Westenberger, an Evergreen public relations manager, said the dream has been in the works for almost 20 years, when Evergreen first asked the city of Toronto for one of the buildings on the abandoned site. The city told them if they took one building they had to take them all.

“It’s a signature Toronto landmark,” Westenberger said. “We’re excited to be a part of its restoration.”

With the exception of adding solar panels and carbon-neutral heating and cooling, Evergreen placed an emphasis on maintaining the historic integrity of the buildings.

“It’s all based around urban sustainability,” said Lisa Spinks, an Evergreen community programmer. By leading through example, Evergreen hopes to encourage people to live more sustainably.

“Core programs are around restoration work, planting trees community gardens and encouraging people to grow their own vegetables,” Spinks said.

Evergreen is also partnering with YMCA of Greater Toronto, The Gardiner Museum of Ceramic Art, celebrity chef Jamie Kennedy, Outward Bound Canada and Mooreland Community Services.

Each program has a waiting list but Spinks said registration is filling-up fast. Community members can call to sign up for a program

The centre will open in the summer of 2010 with, Help Us Build It, a program designed to engage the community in a hands-on way.

Plans also call for the establishment of community gardens in the spring of 2010 and skating rinks for the winter.