Community fights to keep Neil McNeil at home

  • January 15, 2010
{mosimage}TORONTO - It’s a half-century tradition that Neil McNeil High School supporters say they’d like to keep: having their school at the very site where the Spiritan Fathers founded it 1958.

Neil McNeil, along with four other schools in its cluster group in the Toronto Catholic District School Board, is undergoing a school accommodation review this year. The schools — which are part of four clusters of 17 schools under review — either have too many or too few students and could be consolidated, relocated or closed. In December, the board decided to close two schools and relocate another.

In Neil McNeil’s case, the board said it’s too early to conclude anything because the review isn’t finished.

“In terms of school accommodation review, it’s up to the school accommodation review committee (to decide) what options to put forward,” said Angelo Sangiorgio, the board’s associate director of planning and activities.

Neil McNeil parent council co-chair Nicole Waldron said the group is opposed to one of the three options presented by the board for students from Neil to be relocated from Victoria Park and Kingston Road near the Scarborough Bluffs to St. Patrick’s High School in the Greenwood and Danforth Avenues area. “We are here tonight to say that the history of closing schools must end in this process. We are not here to close and to relocate Neil McNeil,” Waldron told a boisterous crowd of about 400 people at a Jan. 7 public meeting at the high school.

Sangiorgio said the committee has requested staff come up with some “options for consideration” in October, which include relocating Notre Dame High School students, located just west of Neil, to St. Patrick’s or providing a new program focus for St. Patrick to attract more students.

This east-end schools are under review because there are too many students at Cardinal Newman, Neil McNeil, Notre Dame and Jean Vanier and too few students at St. Patrick’s.

At the heart of the controversy, say Neil McNeil supporters like Bill Rayson, whose son attends the school, is that this option is even on the table. It shows disregard for the Spiritan’s life-long work and the school’s history, he said.

Spiritan Father Paul McAuley said the contract between the Spiritans and the board has a covenant which states the board must “use its best efforts” to keep the school on site as an all boys’ school. McAuley said proposing the option of relocation doesn’t reflect a “best effort” just months after the property sale in June.

“(The covenant is) not legally binding. It is perhaps morally binding,” McAuley said.

McAuley said the Spiritans wouldn’t have sold the school property to the board had they known there was a possibility it would relocate or close.

According to the contract, “The purchaser covenants to use its best efforts to continuously ... operate the Neil McNeil Catholic Secondary School at the property for not less than 50 years from the date of execution of this agreement.”

Meanwhile, the board sought a legal opinion from Miller Thomson about the covenant. The opinion said “identifying an option which may not be consistent with the continuous operation of Neil McNeil at the property in and of itself does not violate the best efforts covenant.”

“The best efforts covenant is not an absolute prohibition, but it imposes a higher standard than would otherwise be the case,” it added.

Sangiorgio said the board has spoken with some interested developers. But, so far, the likelihood of getting $25-$30 million from a potential sale “is very slim.”

Another public meeting is scheduled for Feb. 8 at St. Patrick’s at 7 p.m.

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