Staff and students at Thorold Secondary School have started a letter writing campaign in hopes of convincing the city to move forward with the installation of a synthetic turf field at McMillan Park.
“We’re very concerned,” says teacher Cam Stone, in an interview with ThoroldToday. “When we left school in June we believed that everything was in place and we were super excited about getting new amenities for the school. Then we come back and find out that it’s suddenly not [happening].”
As reported by ThoroldToday, the District School Board Niagara (DSBN) has put forward a proposal to buy McMillan Park and install a full-size synthetic turf football field. The existing baseball diamond and amenities, including the dugouts, clubhouse and backstop would be relocated to other city-owned land in the Rolling Meadows community.
After an in-camera city council meeting behind closed doors on Aug. 30, City Hall announced it would not be moving forward with the sale of the park at this time.
The decision has left staff and students at Thorold Secondary School worried that their dreams of playing football on a full-sized synthetic turf field will never materialize.
Football Coach Duane Kemp explains that having a turf field with an accompanying running track would be a huge boon for the school and other community groups.
“It would be fantastic because we wouldn’t be constrained by the weather and by the city,” Kemp tells ThoroldToday. “We think it is so beneficial for the whole community. So many people could benefit from this. It could be huge.”
Thorold Secondary Student Will Sargeant says it's frustrating to not have the proper amenities at school.
“I’ve had multiple friends leave our school because they didn’t think that we could offer the same that other schools could offer,” he says. “Our programs are amazing, the coaches give up so much of their time. I think we just need the facilities to make it so that we can have these top-notch programs.”
Kemp points out that when the school’s football team was selected for the championships last year, they had to play their games at another location because bad weather had left McMillan Park a soggy mess.
“It limited access for our student body to come and celebrate the accomplishments of these hardworking athletes who put in a lot of time and effort and sacrificed a lot,” Kemp says. “It was a shame that we couldn’t have the school there to be a part of that.”
Because the school has to share the park with the Thorold Anchors in spring and summer, they often can’t use it when they want to.
“We had to put off using the field for two weeks because the Thorold Anchors were in the OBA championships," says Kemp. "We talk to these students about continuous learning and always striving to be better. It’s difficult when we only have a three-month window to do that.”
Because the deal involves the sale of a piece of city-owned land, negotiations between the city and the DSBN have occurred behind closed doors.
Councillors Ken Sentance and Anthony Longo are the city council liaisons who provide other councillors with updates during closed sessions. For the staff and students at Thorold Secondary School, it's often guesswork to know what's going on.
One thing Stone does know is that the deal currently on the table would see the city sell the field for $2-million.
“It’s a $4-million investment in the school,” he says. “It’s $2-million to build the field and $2-million to the city. That $2-million is meant to build the new diamond and also move the splash pad and playground. There’s still going to be grass for people to walk their dogs and kids to play.”
Time is ticking for the deal to happen and there are worries that the DSBN will decide to build a turf field at another school.
“City council is saying they need more time but more time means putting it off,” says Stone. “We can’t be assured that the funds will be there next year because the funds come from the province and they have to be used.”
In an effort to convince the city to move forward, students and staff have started a letter writing campaign.
“It’s a great civic opportunity for the students as well to be learning that you can actually do something about it,” says Stone. “It’s been good for the students to learn how to craft a letter.”
All eyes will be on Tuesday night's city council meeting, the last of the current term. Stone hopes to find out why the city has initially turned down the deal.
“We need to see movement on Tuesday,” he says. “After the meeting when council voted against it, they didn’t reach out to the DSBN to say what their issues were. We’re left guessing. If city council doesn’t move on this soon, within a matter of weeks, the DSBN will probably have to look elsewhere.”