$3.7M expansion to Chester Le school much-needed, supporters say

Construction is underway on a $3.7-million expansion to Chester Le Junior Public School in the Victoria Park and Finch area.

And it’s about time, supporters say.

The expansion includes a new child care facility and a 460-square-metre community centre, something the community has needed for a long time, says Nrinder Nann, Toronto’s manager of community development.

“We interviewed over 450 residents in the Chester Le community who expressed that what was lacking in their neighbourhood was a place where residents could go,” she said. “Not just going and hanging out at a coffee shop, but a place that has meaningful opportunities for them to engage in bettering themselves.”

Plans for how the space in the city-funded centre is used will reflect the needs of the growing Chester Le community, Nann said.

“What it’s going to include is essentially an accessible place for the public to gather and access programming,” she said. “It will include a youth lounge, meeting rooms, computer labs, as well as a community kitchen.”

Former Ward 39 resident Ryan Marshall grew up in the area. He says an expansion to the public school is a great step in encouraging the sense of community among residents.

“The Chester Le community is one of the most tight-knit communities that we have in that area,” Marshall said. “I feel like [a community centre] will be a better way for them to watch out for each other and keep that tight bond going. If a neighbourhood has that type of mindset, we should encourage it.”

Former Ward 39 resident Ryan Marshall reminisces about some of his fondest memories growing up around the Chester Le neighbourhood, and explains the unique bond between the community’s residents.

[audio:http://www.torontoobserver.ca/wp-content/uploads/2011/02/Chester-Le-Audio-Clip.mp3]

The Chester Le community is part of the Steeles-L’Amoreaux priority neighbourhood, one of 13 such Toronto neighbourhoods identified as lacking in services and facilities.

Steven Ly attended Chester Le public school almost 10 years ago. He says there was a lack of attention to the neighbourhood by the city.

“I always felt that our school [was] a bit neglected,” he said. “Our classrooms didn’t have doors, and were small and cramped. I remember in Grade 3 we had to share half the room with a Grade 5/6 class.”

The neglect went beyond the classroom and into the schoolyard, Ly said.

“Our playground was something out of a Third World country,” he said. “Half the swings were missing, the best slide we had was rusting and falling apart, and out of four possible see-saws, four of them were missing.”

Marshall said he welcomes the city initiative as a way to eliminate the negative stigma attached to the neighbourhood.

“If the government can adhere to the problems that the citizens in that neighbourhood have, then I don’t think that it will be a priority area,” he said. “If they keep doing things like this, like expanding, it will benefit not only the neighbourhood but Scarborough as well.”

While this expansion will benefit the immediate area, Councillor Mike Del Grande says, its effect will be felt throughout the ward.

“The new space and child care facility will help with community gatherings, child care services and additional programming for youth in the entire ward,” a spokesperson for Del Grande said. “This new community space will benefit everyone [in Ward 39].”

Construction is set to finish in September, with the community centre opening its doors to the public in early 2012.