Ontario, TCDSB reject controversial Columbus Centre redevelopment

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Ontario, TCDSB reject controversial Columbus Centre redevelopment

A controversial proposal to redevelop Toronto's Columbus Centre has been rejected by the Toronto Catholic District School Board (TCDSB) under direction from the province.

The TCDSB and the centre's owner, Villa Charities, had proposed a $70 million redevelopment that included plans for an all-new structure and the reconstruction of Dante Alighieri Academy, which would share some facilities with the centre.

Critics said the razing of the existing building would have been an affront to Toronto's Italian community.

Late last year, around 200 community members and local MPP Mike Colle attended a public meeting where they roundly criticized the plan.

The proposal would have also adversely affected the availability and quality of services offered by the centre, which is visited by more than 100,000 guests annually, people said.

"A new building is unnecessary," wrote the Columbus Athletic and Social Association on its website, adding that local opposition to the proposal has been overwhelming.

"We must not allow it to be demolished," the statement continued.

Province 'took away local autonomy'

However, the local TCDSB trustee says those concerns were unfounded, and the decision to scrap the redevelopment will worsen the crowding at Dante Alighieri Academy and Regina Mundi Catholic School.

"They took away local autonomy," said Maria Rizzo of the Ministry of Education's direction. "We're like little kindergarten kids and they're the principal, they tell us what to do."

Villa Charities also blasted the province, and said the "decision was made in isolation and without discussion with Villa Charities."

In response to the concerns raised by community members, Rizzo says the final version of the redevelopment plans would have preserved the Columbus Centre's rotunda, library and art gallery.

The facilities used by students would have also been separate from those used by community members, with the exception of a 500 seat theatre, she said

"It would have been a mecca for the city," said Rizzo of the proposed centre.

The future of the centre

Critics of the redevelopment had also expressed concerns that it could pave the way for a condominium project at the site.

Rizzo says that possibility is now even greater without the participation of a public-serving organization such as the TCDSB.

While Villa Charities chair Aldo Cundari said he was "extremely disappointed" with the decision, he said the Columbus Centre will continue to serve the community in its fullest capacity.

"Improving the Columbus Centre has been a part of our history and will continue to define us going forward," he said.