Neighbourhood left in the dirt, Field Construction underway, residents questions process.

Newly erected barricade around Immaculata High School sports field leaves neighbourhood youngsters on the outside looking in. Photo by Carly Lang

Newly erected barricade around Immaculata High School sports field leaves neighbourhood youngsters on the outside looking in. Photo by Carly Lang

By Lorne Abugov

Construction of a controversial new artificial turf sports field at Immaculata High School is now well underway following unsuccessful efforts by angry Old Ottawa East residents and neighbours of the school intent on forcing the Ottawa Catholic School Board (OCSB) to halt the digging and consult on alternative options.

As described in the April issue of the Mainstreeter, neighbours on Drummond and Glenora streets in OOE had waged an 11th-hour campaign to stall the excavation of the green space at Immaculata and introduce a consultation with the board to discuss less invasive options for refurbishing the field.

However, on April 30, barricades surrounding the field were erected and both the existing running track and the grass field have now been stripped, with no plans by the board to slow construction plans that are expected to see the new turf completed and ready for use by September 2018. Members of the community opposed to the board’s 21-year $2 million agreement with the private Footy Sevens company, and to the lack of transparency of the process involved in negotiating the deal, have formed an organization, Neighbours for Community Fields (NCF).

As the Mainstreeter went to press, the NCF had retained legal counsel and exchanged correspondence with lawyers for the board. The group has also launched a GoFundMe account to underwrite the legal costs of their campaign, which is expected to seek monetary damages for loss of enjoyment of property and possibly injunctive relief to halt the construction.

At a recent planning meeting, members of NCF vowed to continue their campaign to pressure the board to delay the construction and to consider the community’s proposals for refurbishing the Immaculata sports field.

“We have all agreed that there will be no letup because there can’t be,” said Mitch Vlad, a Hazel Street resident and one of the founding members of the NCF. “We are not going to roll over and play dead in the face of the board’s actions because there are so many fundamentally wrong aspects to this situation.”

NCF is active on Twitter (@NeighbourFields), has collected petition signatures door-to-door and has forcefully communicated its concerns to both local politicians and the media. One of the group’s objectives is to foster a community-wide understanding of the facts associated with the board’s behaviour in inking its long-term contract with Footy Sevens without any community involvement.

“The commercialization of the Immaculata field is the first case in Ottawa of a school field for-profit model that is attempting to spread throughout Ontario,” according to the NCF. “These commercial sports field operators target property tax-exempt school properties and structure 21 year deals with school boards that exploit tax loopholes in order to avoid paying property tax or rent while running intense-use commercial businesses on school properties.“

The group has learned that near-identical scenarios are playing out involving a sport field turf conversion at Applewood High School in Mississauga and a turf project already completed at Hart Lake Secondary School in Brampton, both of which projects have unfolded with no notice given to the communities in question and curtailment of public access rights to the completed turf fields.

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Filed in: Features, FP, Front Page

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