‘I’ve never seen anything take this long’: City, Catholic Board reach agreement for new rec facility at neglected Malton high school
In the small community of Malton, blocked off from the rest of Mississauga by Pearson International Airport, families have been calling for equitable recreational funding at a school made up of predominantly non-white students. After a long-fought battle, students at Ascension of Our Lord Secondary School will finally have access to an adequate recreational facility following what advocates and local councillors have labelled as years of neglect by the Catholic school board.
Council voted unanimously on March 8 to enter a joint use and funding agreement with the Dufferin-Peel Catholic District School Board (DPCDSB) for a new artificial turf track and field facility at Anaka Park.
The City voted on Wednesday to enter into a joint agreement with the Board for the redevelopment and use of Anaka Park, which has been poorly maintained for years.
(Alexis Wright/The Pointer)
“This has been a battle royal,” Ward 5 Councillor Carolyn Parrish told council on Wednesday. “This has been worse than birthing five elephants. I’ve never seen anything take this long. This is a major accomplishment for Malton and for the separate school and for the kids especially.”
The community has been asking for equitable funding for years. Parrish, who has been a vocal advocate urging the Catholic board to create equitable opportunities for Malton students, said the way Ascension has been treated for decades is a clear sign of neglect by a board that has prioritized schools outside Malton and other diverse areas.
“[Malton] is isolated from the rest of the city by a massive belt of industrial land and the airport — out of sight, out of mind,” Parrish told The Pointer. “The population of Malton is heavily composed of new Canadians struggling to make a life in a new country and others who have to work two jobs to feed their families. They are not militant. We know squeaky wheels get attention, but Malton folks don’t complain.”
Ward 5 Councillor Carolyn Parrish has been pushing for equitable opportunities for students at the Malton high school for years.
(The Pointer files)
Ascension is the only Catholic high school in Mississauga without a proper sports facility nearby. Students who enjoy athletics at the school need to train for track and field competitions on pavement and inside the small gym—which was initially designed for a middle school. The complete lack of resources left students to practice sprints on hallway floors and high jump on paved parking lots. With no joint-use agreement previously established between the school and the City, which owns field at Anaka Park, the school’s sports teams did not have a home field and students had to travel to compete. Practicing was also deemed very difficult due to the lack of proper facilities.
Concern over the perceived treatment by the DPCDSB toward students in a school that is predominantly non-white increased in recent years as funding for outdoor recreation and competitive athletics was evident at other Catholic schools while Ascension was falling behind. The DPCDSB denies neglecting Ascension students.
Under the agreement approved on Wednesday, the DPCDSB will contribute 50 percent of the upfront capital costs to construct the new facility while the City will be funding the remaining 50 percent. The joint use agreement also establishes that the Board and the City will share, on a 50/50 basis, the ongoing maintenance and operation costs for the facility.
The City will be responsible for the construction of the facility with input from the school board. After its completion, the Board will have exclusive use of the facility during school hours and the public will be able to use it after school hours, weekends, statutory holidays and vacation periods, according to the agreement. Prior to beginning construction, the City will undertake a public engagement process to ensure residents are supportive of the proposed redevelopment. Staff anticipate the facility will be completed in 2024.
The design layout proposed for the revamped Anaka Park, which will include a new track and field facility.
(City of Mississauga)
The City’s design proposal includes building a new track and field facility, with the majority of the facility on Anaka Park and a small portion on lands owned by the Catholic board. The improvements proposed include an artificial turf field, a synthetic four lane track, new field lighting, a high jump facility and other park modifications.
“The location and design is one of half a dozen our City staff spent untold hours exploring,” Parrish explained. “It’s the only one that will fit within very tight boundaries with a sufficient buffer for the backyards of the community homes surrounding it.”
The City’s share of the bill will be $1.65 million, funds Parrish previously told The Pointer council had set aside for the long-awaited project.
While the City has had its portion of the funds ready to deploy, the Board told The Pointer last year that funding for the project has not flowed because stakeholders couldn’t reach an agreement. It also blamed the Province, saying it was “ultimately up to the Ministry of Education” to provide the required funding in order for the project to proceed. But Queen’s Park told The Pointer the Board is responsible for greenlighting the needed investment.
A spokesperson for the Ministry of Education told The Pointer the Province does not get involved in this type of funding and the school board and municipality are responsible for reaching an agreement including a timeline for the project. The onus is on trustees to make decisions about a Board’s use of its capital budget.
In the spring of 2022, the City and DPCDSB finally reached a consensus on a future facility, after several years of lobbying from families and parent groups. The Board repeatedly assured community members that the redevelopment of Anaka Park has been a top priority of the DPCDSB. Yet it took years for any tangible action to be taken by the Board.
“The design for the new artificial track and field facility at Anaka Park is the result of ongoing, collaborative efforts between the [DPCDSB] and the City of Mississauga to construct a facility that will support the needs of students at Ascension of Our Lord Catholic Secondary School and the broader Malton community,” Bruce Campbell, a DPCDSB spokesperson, wrote in an email.
“The construction of this facility will promote access to future Ascension of Our Lord students to participate in track and field, soccer, and other sports at their school for many years to come. The partnership between DPCDSB and the City to construct this facility is a clear acknowledgement of the need to address the ongoing challenges faced by Ascension of Our Lord students for many years to ensure equity of access.”
Last July, the grass on the field at Anaka Park had withered away to straw from the summer heat. In the distance, CN tracks carry rail cars hauling goods.
(The Pointer Files)
According to the 2016 Census almost 85 percent of Malton residents were visible minorities; the largest groups were South Asian-Canadians, Chinese-Canadians, Black- Canadians, Filipino-Canadians, Latino-Canadians and Arab-Canadians. Residents were, on average, more than two years younger than the city overall, and occupied some of the most demanding blue-collar jobs in manufacturing, transportation and logistics support and warehouse work.
Concerns have been raised that students are turning away from the school due to the lack of recreational resources available. The DPCDSB as a whole has seen its enrollment decline 10.5 percent since the 2018/19 school year. Parents have seen the lack of attention to sports and other activities at Ascension for more than a decade.
Parrish gave credit to one parent in particular, Flavienne Sagna-Lane, president of the Ascension Parent Committee, who has two sons at Ascension, both avid athletes who have been impacted by the lack of facilities at the school.
“She deserves great credit for tipping some very heavy scales in the right direction. Flavienne…. cared deeply about her own children’s needs and those of every student in the school. Her help was invaluable,” Parrish said.
Sagna-Layne has been on the Ascension Parents’ Committee for years, and said there was a demand for a new soccer field and track long before she joined. Last year, she told The Pointer the Ascension community has been asking for an upgraded facility for 14 years. After the frustration with the board, she took her sons and three of their friends to Saint Marcellinus, another Catholic high school located in Mississauga’s Meadowvale neighbourhood, to see the outdoor track hoping it would spark something in them. Sagna-Layne said they were shocked by the difference they saw and the unequal treatment by the Board.
“This is great and we look forward to the next steps to move the project forward,” Sagna-Layne said when she heard the news about the joint agreement.
But while the City’s half of the funds are accounted for, the Board now has to pony up its end of the deal. For the Board’s portion, a funding request for the joint project has been approved by trustees and is currently pending approval from the Province. Council’s approval to enter into the joint agreement was required in order for the project to move forward and for the Ministry of Education to approve the DPCDSB request.
Campbell said the Ministry is currently considering the Board’s funding request for the project and now, with the City’s formal approval of its share of the funding, the Board is “hopeful that the Ministry will be able to approve this request in a timely manner.” The Ministry did not immediately respond to The Pointer’s request for comment on where it is in the approval process.
Parrish, who has been pushing the agreement for years, is feeling a medley of emotions now that the project is finally moving forward.
“I’m experiencing a mixture of delight, relief and some sadness—delight that the kids of Ascension will finally stop practicing sprints on terrazzo hall floors and high jump on paved parking lots. Relief that a lengthy battle to get the cooperation of the Separate Board is finally over,” she told The Pointer. “Sadness that a student population has completed grades 9 [through] 12 with abysmal sports facilities, when the City was ready to build the same track and soccer field years ago.”
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