Destroying Public Green Space for Someone Else

Destroying public green space for…what?

Central Tech’s football field is in an undeniably brutal state of disrepair, but the solution favoured by the Toronto District School Board and a private company—of all names, Razor Management—to build an Astroturf field and a monstrous dome that will not only seriously harm the surrounding community, but pose serious problems for the students it aims to benefit.

Some quick context

Central Tech is a public high school at Bathurst and Harbord. It boasts not only a grass football field but the only quarter-mile racetrack in downtown Toronto. The school’s football, rugby and track and field athletes all use the field. But locals enjoy the big open grassy space—it’s a public school, paid for by tax dollars and the public is free to use it, like at all public schools. Imagine what free access to an open field of grass means to the owners of the adjacent 380-square foot condos. But if Razor and the TDSB have it their way, access to the field will be limited and much else will change too.

Objections to their proposal are numerous and serious.

Health

NFL and MLB are abstaining from Astroturf because it causes injuries, and injuries in pro sports are expensive. The TDSB cites the Toronto Board of Health’s approval of the Astroturf, but the Board of Health used outdated, eight year old studies whose findings have since been overturned—one in Norway where Astroturf is banished, and a Montreal study which also reversed the findings.

So, if you prefer Jose Bautista and Brett Lawrie to play on grass instead of Astroturf, perhaps children deserve the same consideration.

Aside from impacting athletes’ joints and hips, the proposed field contains carcinogens. Razor claims there will be sufficient ventilation, but they also deny there are carcinogens in the first place. You won’t see anything on their website about styrene or butadiene, just the profoundly unsurprising fluff touting their product.

Money

Razor’s contract for the field lasts 20-years. They’re paying $200,000 for the initial cost of the field in addition to the expense of maintenance. Oddly, Astroturf actually needs to be watered more than grass—it needs to be cleaned and cooled, as it can reach temperatures of up to 130 degrees fahrenheit (54 degrees celsius) in summer. Razor claims they will have a large enough tank below the field to catch run-off water. Keep in mind that all water is runoff as Astroturf absorbs nothing. Even if everything goes right and there is no giant flood like last summer, the $200,000 field needs to be replaced every eight years.

What happens if this company goes bankrupt in the next twenty years? The TDSB is only consorting with a corporation because they’re chronically broke. It’s a liability. And if Razor doesn’t go broke, will they pay out in the possible event Astroturf is deemed a health hazard?

CTS Field With Dome

(Pic via Save the CTS Field)

Community

The proposed field and dome will have various detrimental impacts on the community.  While the dome is up, locals must pay to enter what since 1917 had been a free green space. For half the year, gone is a public gathering space for young and old, from ball players to tai chi exercisers, runners, walkers and babies in strollers. Even runners who pay to use the track lose out: Razor can’t make room for four square football fields without seriously tapering the corners of the existing track, causing injuries as runners negotiate turns (4 times a lap), meaning the only quarter-mile track in downtown Toronto will not only now cost money to use, it’ll be ruined. Ditto for the field.

Residents sleeping near the field will find the 50-candlepower stadium lights for night games, and all the noise, intrusive. Occupying the whole of their windows for 5-6 months of the year will be a 24-metre tall dome, 5-6 storeys, rivalling Florence’s Duomo for size, but whereas the Florentines opted to depict hell on the inside of their dome, Central Tech will bear it on the outside. The neo-gothic school behind the grassy field will be entirely blocked from street view. To imagine the vista, place a piece of blank white paper an inch from your face.

Traffic in an already congested area will be worsened. Razor, citing their own traffic study (a Razor employee standing on a non-night school night stating there are vacant parking spots), has pooh-poohed concern over additional traffic. But the existing parking shortage won’t be helped by creating four new fields of up to 80 participants playing night games. The school board, recognizing the seriousness of this concern, has proposed abolishing night school, creating a new problem while failing to solve the first one.

Around the city

Such private public partnerships have been implemented around the city already. Interestingly it was proposed at Forest Hill, but when the community learned about the project, backlash was fierce. Razor sells the Central Tech plan as a free “world-class” upgrade low-income students need desperately, and posture in the media as if the community backlash is not only unthinkable, but inhumanly selfish. In other words, Razor is portraying itself as low-income benefactor, paying for the high quality facility usually only reserved for rich Forest Hill kids but for the munificence. Of course, the facility, its $6-million price tag notwithstanding, is crap; it’s a health hazard, and the high-income school rejected it out of hand.

But Central Tech students, innocents fed misinformation, clamour for it. Nobody denies the field and the attendant facilities (washrooms, bleachers, scoreboard…) need a serious upgrade. But installing a crappy field that jeopardizes the athletes, damages the community, and poses a serious economic liability to the TDSB is foolhardy.

Perhaps Astroturf companies are prowling for new clients now that pro sports have adjudged their product unsafe, and see vulnerable prey in perpetually broke school boards. The whole process has been stealthy and hurried (as these things usually are), a tacit admission they know public outcry will increase in proportion to awareness.

At a community meeting, Rob Ford was wildly in favour for the project—perhaps that’s all you need to know.

Moving Forward

Several local groups are working towards finding a viable solution. I wish them godspeed.  Meantime:

Sign the petition at Change.org—Save the Central Tech Field.

Write to School Board and City representatives:

Chris Bolton: Chris.Bolton@tdsb.on.ca

Adam Vaughan: Councillor_Vaughn@tornto.ca

Mike Layton: Councillor_Layton@toronto.ca

About Jeff Halperin

Jeff Halperin was a city hall reporter at the Toronto Standard, but his writing has also appeared at Maclean's, the Grid and elsewhere. He also writes on literature, Leafs, music, chess and more. Jeff's website is [here] For other PP posts by Jeff click [here]