More chaos around Brampton medical school plan—Council feuds over displaced library & arts organizations

·11 min read

Frustration coloured Brampton Council Chambers, as the City scrambles to navigate the takeover of the Bramalea Civic Centre for the proposed Toronto Metropolitan University School of Medicine.

Councillor Rowena Santos described “frustration about how arts continues to be pushed aside for what people think are other priorities” after saying she was shocked to learn the school of medicine will be located in the Civic Centre where the Lester B. Pearson Theatre, various arts organizations and the Chinguacousy Library branch are located. She said she was unaware, until recently, that existing facilities, including the popular library branch which provides a range of unique services, will have to be relocated to make room for the medical school.

She laid much of the blame for what she described as a non-transparent process at the feet of the local councillor.

“I’m not sure if Councillor (Pat) Fortini thought giving away the civic centre would actually impact the community, specifically the artists in the community,” Santos said. “I didn’t know that the civic centre was offered at the time, or I would have spoke up for the artists.”

She continued.

“We are all, obviously, in support and very happy that the medical school is coming to the city of Brampton. Many of us were there, celebrating that announcement at the Brampton Civic Centre, however I do have some issues and concerns as we are trying to make sure the city of Brampton also gets its fair share as well as entering into negotiations on this particular piece of land, so I do have a few questions for staff when it comes to performing arts and the arts portfolio of that property itself.”

Councillor Fortini shot back, explaining that he showed Toronto Metropolitan University (TMU) “quite a few locations” to house its future medical school campus before the university decided on the Bramalea Civic Centre.

“I did not find the location,” Fortini said. “I took them for a tour… our job was to take them around and let them choose — that’s what I did,” he responded. “That’s what happened. I didn’t tell them to go to the Civic Centre, I brought them around the city. Thank God we got a medical school because it was coming to the last week; they were going to pack up and leave.”

He questioned why Santos was suddenly voicing concern over the impact of the earlier decision to house the medical school.

“Yourself, when you voted in favour, didn’t think of it either. Now we’re getting emails in the last two days on the theatre—well we woke up. It’s kind of late now.”

In January, the Province, City and Toronto Metropolitan University (TMU) announced the new medical school will be located at the Bramalea Civic Centre, chosen due to the proximity to both Brampton Civic Hospital and Peel Memorial Wellness Centre, as well as its accessibility to municipal transportation, GO Transit and the 410 Highway.

The announcement was held with fanfare at a media event featuring a speech by Premier Doug Ford who praised the location at the Centre on January 27. It was jointly declared that the school would open its doors to students in 2025.

The celebration was quickly met with confusion, as local officials and residents soon learned the medical school will force the relocation of the beloved Chinguacousy Library (its recording studios are just one of the wildly popular features) and the arts organizations currently located in the Bramalea Civic Centre.

Questions have also been raised about the claimed timeline to have the school opened by September 2025. The narrow schedule does not line up with the length of time it typically takes to launch a new medical school by a university that has never had one, and TMU has been asked by The Pointer about how the two-year timeline can meet its own extensive policy for launching a new academic program, which includes external quality control approvals and internal processes to ensure the complex components to run a full medical school are all in place prior to launching the program.

There has been no announcement of funds for the project in the provincial budget. Only $1 million was committed to explore the possibility of a Brampton medical school in partnership with TMU.

When this year’s provincial budget was released on March 23, the document included details of an investment of $42.5 million over two years beginning in 2023–24 to support the expansion of undergraduate and postgraduate medical education and training across the province.

While the new TMU medical school in Brampton is mentioned, there are no details about any specific funding to support the capital costs of the new campus or the operational costs of the new medical school, which TMU says will open in two years.

On March 1, a report came to Council to declare the Civic Centre property as surplus and approve the sale of it for a “fee simple” transfer to TMU (meaning the university will have few restrictions as to what it wants to use the location for, and therefore could scrap the medical school plan if it wants). Its ownership of the property was granted by the City with “nominal consideration” of the actual value of the site.

The appraised value of the property is $48 million, but it will now be transferred to TMU. Brampton taxpayers, meanwhile, will have to cover about $7.3 million in various costs associated with the transition of the Civic Centre.

The City of Brampton has also committed to invest $20 million of funding to support building renovations required for programing and operations of the School of Medicine – although that funding was not included in the 2023 budget. The City told The Pointer it will be taken from reserve accounts.

Staff told Council on March 1 the City’s Cultural Services Team has noted the proposed sale will have an impact on the service delivery of its division, specifically use of the Lester B. Pearson Theatre, studio rooms, music rooms and dance rooms. In 2019, the theatre underwent a $3.4 million renovation, taxpayer money that was wasted, as the theatre remained closed throughout much of the pandemic and will now have to make way for TMU.

The City’s IT team also warned that some of its services are located at the Civic Centre, noting, “It would require a great endeavour of time and money to relocate the physical infrastructure. The location of those services is to be included in the area that will be leased back to the City by TMU.”

Santos questioned if arts groups are being treated differently than other types of organizations in the city. “Sometimes I think to myself, if the Brampton Civic Centre was sort of (an) indoor ice rink or indoor recreation centre for sports, whether or not we would even consider that to turn into a medical school.”

During the March 1 meeting, she asked what the loss of the Bramalea Civic Centre would mean for performing arts. Kelly Stahl, senior manager of Cultural Services, told Council that her department had concerns.

“The music and dance rooms that are solely used by (the) arts and culture community are prioritized for use by the arts and culture community (and) are 25,000 square feet,” Stahl said. “So we will be losing that 25,000 square feet. I’m not aware of the square footage of the recording studio that’s within the library. I am aware it’s a highly used space by the community.”

Staff were also asked by Councillor Harkirat Singh if the Library branch and the Chinguacousy recording studio would be incorporated into other operational plans. After hearing they currently are not part of the master plan that would include them, he suggested they should be.

“If we’re doing a refresh of the master plan, we should incorporate elements of the library into it or separate because there’s a valid point in the sense things are going offline,” Singh said. “We’re going to potentially have a library going offline, we’re going to potentially have a recording studio going offline, we’re potentially going to have a dance studio going offline. However, it also presents an opportunity, there are so many redevelopments happening in the City of Brampton and projected to happen in the next ten years, twenty years. There’s plenty of opportunities to integrate these services into those new builds and we might end up in a better situation.”

Singh added, in response to criticism by Santos, “Yes, there’s short-term pain, nobody is denying that, but long-term wise, there’s rich opportunity.”

Patrick Brown confronted Santos, calling out what he described as “false choices” by her, between support for arts and culture or the proposed medical school.

“Normally I sort of wait for all the councillors to ask their questions before I say, ‘calm it’ but I would say, don’t accept the false choice that it’s between a medical school or sports or the arts. A city as big as Brampton can certainly service all,” Brown said, after hearing the criticism from Santos.

“Of course we need to accommodate anyone that is displaced, I think you will find 100 percent support around this table to make sure everyone is accommodated. Sometimes (with) city building, shuffling goes around.”

He suggested the City stay out of TMU’s way, or risk losing yet another potential post-secondary partner. When it was called Ryerson, the university pulled out of a planned downtown campus project in 2019 after Brown failed to salvage the plan when the Province pulled $90 million of promised funding. Then, last year, Guelph-Humber pulled out of a campus plan after Brown once again failed to meet his funding commitments to the project.

“I just want to caution Council in case we go down this road, we don’t need to get involved in the process that this was selected,” Brown said, referring to TMU’s decision.

Santos said she isn’t against the medical school, but was frustrated by the site selection and “whether or not consideration was made before showing TMU the location.”

She replied to Brown’s use of sports examples, when he claimed that relocating facilities is a common reality that cities face.

“All the examples shared were about sports,” she said, pointing out that when such facilities have been relocated, the public and council members were properly informed.

She said that is not what happened with TMU. “What we were presented with was, ‘Guess what, you’re being booted out and now, last minute, we have to find a different location because council wasn’t even aware that location was selected.’”

The motion to move the property to surplus passed, as did a budget amendment that a new capital project be established in the amount of $7,275,000 for the Bramalea Civic Centre occupant relocation.

Marlon Kallideen, Brampton’s CAO, told Council the city will be entering into a 99 year lease for the theatre along with the parking lot and amenities. As a result, the theatre will become a shared use space with TMU, allowing the public to access it during off hours, while it will be used by TMU for lectures and other needs whenever the university requires it. The City will also be leasing part of the ground floor area for 25 years for IT services and other uses.

Councillor Fortini said that while the medical school is important “nobody thought” the existing services and organizations would need to be evicted to make it happen.

“I knew they wanted their own library, but I didn’t expect it so fast,” he said. “The theatre, as far as I know, I heard in the past that they were going to make accommodation, they don’t really need the theatre and they’re probably going to lease it to us, which that’s what’s happening now but to go around saying, ‘We don’t support the arts’ and all that. We got a lot of buildings downtown, I thought those buildings were supposed to be when we purchased them for certain things. Here we are, we are tearing down buildings and now we’re looking for space for people.”

The City will need to have the affected City services relocated to satisfy TMU’s requirements by August 31.

Brown requested senior staff report back to Council in 90 days with an update on displaced City services.


Twitter: @JessicaRDurling

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