Funding finally flows for Anaka Park upgrade in underserved Malton community
Students at Ascension of Our Lord Catholic Secondary School in Malton are one step closer to having access to an adequate recreational facility after years of squabbling between the City of Mississauga, provincial government and the Catholic school board. Last week, the Ministry of Education provided approval for the Dufferin-Peel Catholic District School Board (DPCDSB) to provide up to $2 million for an upgrade to Anaka Park, which will provide critical recreation facilities for the Catholic school.
In the community of Malton, which has historically been underserved when compared to the rest Mississauga, families have witnessed the lack of attention to sports and other activities at Ascension for years, and have been calling on the DPCDSB for equitable recreational funding at a school made up of predominantly non-white students. The board has repeatedly failed to provide equal funding to the diverse Malton high school and Ascension students have long been left without an adequate outdoor sports facility.
Mississauga Councillor Carolyn Parrish, who represents the area, has been a critical proponent in urging the Catholic board to create equitable opportunities for Malton students.
“[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 previously told The Pointer, emphasizing the board has repeatedly prioritized spending outside Malton and other diverse areas. “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.”
According to the 2016 Census almost 85 percent of Malton residents were visible minorities, predominantly South Asian-Canadians, Chinese-Canadians, Black-Canadians, Filipino-Canadians, Latino-Canadians and Arab-Canadians. Despite the Board’s repeated assurances to community members that the redevelopment of Anaka Park has been a top priority, it took years for any tangible action to be taken. During that time, concerns were raised that the lack of recreational resources available was deterring students from attending the school, with the Board reporting a 10.5 percent decline in enrollment since the 2018/19 school year.
“This has been a battle royal,” Parrish told City Council in March. “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.”
Parents have been calling on the school board to upgrade Ascension’s decrepit recreational facilities for years.
(Alexis Wright/The Pointer)
“Ascension was built on an inadequate torn down elementary school property. Consequently, there was zero outdoor space once parking and portables were in place,” Parrish told The Pointer in a recent email.
When the Ward 5 councillor was introduced to the issue roughly seven years ago, her solution was to recommend a joint-use agreement with the Board and the City for Anaka Park, the city-owned land adjacent to the school. She then requested the funding to build a shared, all-weather track with an artificial turf soccer field, but it took until now to get the Catholic school board to put the facility on their priority funding list.
“It was an incredibly long wait but the holdup was not the Province, it was the Board,” she said.
While the City’s half of the funds for a new facility have been accounted for since at least 2022, according to Parrish, the Board has been dawdling to pony up its end of the deal, until now.
Last week, the Board announced it received funding approval from the Ministry of Education for the track and field facility — an announcement DPCDSB trustee Chair Luz del Rosario called “the critical first hurdle to proceed with this long-awaited capital project.” Funding on the Catholic school board’s end has previously not flowed because stakeholders could not reach an agreement, according to the Board, which 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.
“Under regulatory requirements from the Ministry of Education, DPCDSB was required to request approval from the Ministry for the use of these funds towards this purpose,” Bruce Campbell, a DPCDSB spokesperson, explained in an email to The Pointer. “While DPCDSB is not able to comment on what may have prompted the Ministry’s decision, the project will finally allow for Ascension of Our Lord CSS to have its own track and field amenities.”
The Ministry’s funding announcement includes approval for the use of up to $2 million from the Board’s capital funding, representing 50 percent of the money required for the construction of a new artificial turf soccer field, four-lane oval, and long jump pit at Anaka Park.
“This has been a long time coming and we look forward to the day in the not-so-distant future when students from Ascension of our Lord Catholic Secondary School are able to take to the field and enjoy the facilities,” del Rosario said in a statement on the board’s website. The Ministry also approved the Catholic school board’s request for approval to enter into a long-term joint-use agreement with the City of Mississauga for the permanent outdoor athletic facility improvement.
“The students of Ascension have been without any outdoor sports facilities for far too long. A joint use agreement between the City and the Board has finally made an all-weather soccer field and track a reality for students and for the community,” Parrish, who has been pushing for equitable opportunities for students at the Malton high school for years, said. “I look forward to a continuation of the amazing athletic awards the students of Ascension have achieved over the years.”
In March, students and families caught a first glimpse of the new facility becoming a reality when council unanimously voted to enter into a joint use and funding agreement with the Catholic board for the new artificial turf track and field facility at Anaka Park — owned by the City of Mississauga and adjacent to Ascension of Our Lord Catholic Secondary School. Under the funding agreement, the DPCDSB will contribute 50 percent of the upfront capital costs to construct the new facility while the City will fund the remaining 50 percent. The joint use agreement also establishes that the Board and the City will share the ongoing maintenance and operation costs for the facility on a 50/50 basis.
The City’s share of the bill will be $1.65 million, which council had already set aside for the long-awaited project.
“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,” Campbell previously told The Pointer, adding the partnership “is a clear acknowledgment of the need to address the ongoing challenges faced by Ascension of Our Lord students for many years to ensure equity of access.”
Prior to the funding announcement, Ascension was the only Catholic high school in Mississauga without a proper sports facility nearby. Students could be seen practicing sprints on hallway floors and perfecting their high jump on paved parking lots. Prior to the joint-use agreement being established between the school and the City, the school’s sports teams were left without a home field and students had to travel to compete.
“Due to the lack of a track and field facility, [Ascension] students have been required to participate in practices, games, and meets at various off-site locations,” Campbell said. “As such, school staff have had to coordinate the logistical arrangements of renting other fields and arranging for transportation to/from school, among other logistical challenges.”
In July 2022, the grass on the field at Anaka Park had withered away to straw from the summer heat. The field was ignored by those who passed by it.
(The Pointer files)
The official funding of the new facility is welcome news to the Ascension community who have been asking for an upgraded outdoor space for over a decade.
There’s a shocking difference in Malton’s recreational facility, or lack thereof, compared to other Catholic high schools in Mississauga. While the Board continued to deny neglecting Ascension students, funding for outdoor recreation and competitive athletics was evident at other Catholic schools while Ascension was left in the dust — quite literally — where the grass in the nearby sports field was seen browning into straw, and the ground hardened by summer heat waves.
“The students have truly been deprived of most basic athletic facilities since the school opened. A student-produced video showed kids practicing sprinting on the slippery terrazzo floor of the school halls. It referenced other students practicing high jump on the paved parking lots,” Parrish explained. “Injuries cut short the progress of athletes, many of whom won dozens of medals at ROPSA competitions over the years. Those students who have endured this neglect have surely questioned how they are valued by the Board at its only school without any outdoor sports facilities.”
“This is a giant step toward an amazing athletic facility for kids who have done without since the school opened.”
The City will be responsible for the construction of the approximately $3 million facility, now in the pre-design phase, with input from the school board. Once completed, the Board will have exclusive use of the facility during school hours and the public will be able to use it after the school day ends, weekends, statutory holidays and vacation periods, according to the agreement. The City previously said that prior to beginning construction, staff will undertake a public engagement process to ensure residents are supportive of the proposed redevelopment.
Parrish said the intent is to do a single source contract to the company currently constructing the Lincoln Alexander track and football field. She also noted the joint use agreement will benefit both the students and the community who will be able to enjoy the facilities in off-school hours, adding it's been a positive year for Malton with the approval of two desperately needed sports facilities and the Malton Youth Hub: Jonathan Davis Centre.
Staff anticipate the facility will be completed in 2024.
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