Housing the Columbus Centre and Dante Alighieri Academy under one roof is one step closer to fruition after an official signing ceremony Wednesday, Dec. 19.
The Toronto Catholic District School Board (TCDSB) and Villa Charities, which operates the Columbus Centre, joined forces to launch a project that will see culture and education come together in the Dufferin Street and Lawrence Avenue area.
The $50-million redevelopment project is considered to be the first of its kind in Canada and will accommodate a new school for Dante Alighieri Academy, Columbus Centre, Joseph D. Carrier Art Gallery, a day care and other services currently provided by both organizations. It will also provide much needed capacity to service Toronto’s growing performing and fine arts community.
The project, which includes construction of the new school, is targeted for completion in September 2016. The building, which will allow for Dante Alighieri’s 1,300 students to be in one location, will include shared use of a theatre, dance studios, and expanded fitness and music facilities. Currently, Grade 9 students are housed on Ameer Avenue near Allen Road and Hwy. 401, while programs for other grades are situated on Playfair Avenue near Dufferin Street and Lawrence Avenue.
Plans call for the new structure, which will be linked by a walkway, to be situated just south of the current Columbus Centre location. The old Dante Alighieri site on Playfair Avenue will be refurbished to house Regina Mundi Catholic School, also currently located on Playfair Avenue. It’s not clear what would happen to the old Regina Mundi school, but that’s years down the road, said Pal Di Iulio, president and CEO of Villa Charities.
“Today officializes what we’ve been talking about for years,” he said. “We will carry on with a number of activities and Italian programming, but in a more modern facility. The neighbourhood is changing and we have to reinvent ourselves. We’ve been here for two generations and we’ve done good, decent work.”
Villa Charities has “mechanisms in place” for its share of the funding, which comes in at $18 million. The school board’s portion is $32 million.
“We’re hoping to get started soon,” said Angelo Sangiorgio, assistant director of planning and development for the TCDSB. “If we’re lucky we’ll get the City to approve plans within the next 12 to 15 months. Today is the project’s kick-off.”
Bruce Rodrigues, director of education for the TCDSB, said the project marks the first of its kind in the country.
“Villa Charities has been a long standing supporter of Catholic education,” he said. “It’s no secret this community is in desperate need of a secondary school. Enrollment continues to grow. We’ve long advocated for a new school.”
Dante Alighieri Academy student Jessica Mohanlall said students’ prayers have been answered.
“Not only will it bring students and staff together, but dreams will continue to unfold,” she said.
The event was capped off with an official signing of the Memorandum of Understanding between the two project partners.