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519 Community Centre faces city budget cuts

Board searches for new executive director

GROWING PILES. Trash from the 519 Community Centre piles up along the north side of the building. With the city planning to cut services, the heap is likely to grow. Credit: (Adam Bemma)

On Aug 3 city manager Shirley Hoy announced sweeping financial cutbacks to municipal services including a reduction of hours of operation for Toronto’s community centres.

Michael Robertson, executive assistant to city councillor Kyle Rae – Rae was out of the country and could not be reached for this story — says the cuts shouldn’t affect The 519’s services or hours of operation.

“The 519 operates under a different model,” says Robertson. “It gets a pool of money from the city and then it’s run by a board of management.”

But every community centre has to deal with budget issues.

“People have the misconception that The 519 has a lot of money but we really don’t,” says Mathieu Chantelois, chair of The 519’s board of directors. “It’s always a struggle and it’s always about dealing with priorities.”

Take garbage pick-up, for example. As it is now, The 519 chooses to pile its trash along the north side of the building. All that garbage sweltering in full view of Church St and Cawthra Park must have some impact on the livability of the Church-Wellesley neighbourhood. And the city budget cutbacks will mean that garbage collection will happen even more rarely.

“There are concerns that we’re cutting back on the number of times that litter is being collected,” Robertson says. “It’s not going to be picked up as often.”

Chantelois says The 519 should focus on providing services and that garbage collection is the city’s responsibility.

“It’s very simple; the garbage is only picked up once a week at The 519 because we’re owned by the city,” he says. “It’s very important to us to spend the money in the right place. We looked at the option of removing the garbage with a private company but it’s really expensive.”

Once the rigorous task of finding a new executive director for The 519 — the previous one, Alison Kemper, resigned on Jun 13 — is over, The 519 may have new priorities.

“This is a serious job and it is very prestigious,” says Chantelois. “We are expecting to find a force of nature basically, and that’s why we’re taking our time. We want somebody who’s totally committed to the values of The 519.”

The office manager at The 519, Helen Rykens, is pleased with the board of directors’ decision to look for the best possible candidate for executive director.

“The board is doing a really great hiring process in terms of requesting information not just from the management team but also from the unionized staff here and other stakeholders in terms of what they would like to see,” she says.

Chantelois says The 519 brought in a human resources consultant and formed a committee involving staff and community members for the hiring process.

“I think what’s really positive about that is that we’re not just hearing from one person, we’re hearing from everyone,” says Rykens. “So the board is doing a really thorough search.”

“It’s very important for us to take our time, ” says Chantelois. “The posting is closing on Aug 16 and then we have a serious plan.”

Chantelois say the board will sift through hundreds of resumés to find someone who has worked for a non-profit organization in the past, who knows about queer and trans issues and who is committed to social justice.

“We are looking for somebody who understands the neighbourhood and the community and we’re not sure it’s going to be easy,” says Chantelois. “That’s why we’ve been trying to recruit from all over the country.”

Chantelois says the board plans to introduce the new executive director at the end of September.

Meanwhile, work continues on The 519’s renovation project.

“It’s more than a facelift even,” says Chantelois. “I think we’re giving The 519 a whole new body. We’re done with phase one. Now we have phase two, which is about making the older building much nicer.”

Phase two includes renovating the stairs and auditorium, patching up holes in the walls and also making sure that lights are working properly.

“The good news is that we just found a contractor for phase two and we’re going to start working on the oldest part of the building at the end of August,” he adds.

Chantelois isn’t sure when the whole job will be completed.

“It’s very exciting but it’s a very long project as well,” he says. “We are an organization that has to deal with the City of Toronto.”

Because The 519 depends so much on the city, it has to wade through oceans of red tape before it can make any major changes.

“The city pays the salaries, so even if it’s money that was raised by the community, we have to go through the system of the city,” says Chantelois.