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Construction safety concerns continue for parents at Toronto school

Last Updated Nov 8, 2017 at 8:39 pm EDT

A midtown Toronto parent fears student safety concerns aren’t being heard after he encountered an apparently unsecured construction site steps away John Fisher Junior Public School.

Stavros Rougas was on his way to pick up his son from school Tuesday afternoon, when he noticed the front gate to the neighbouring construction site wide open.

“I tried to find someone to mention that school was letting out and they should close the gate,” he told CityNews.

He even shot video of himself walking right onto the site, where machinery was operating inside a fenced-in pit.

“Someone was operating a bulldozer, but there was no on-site supervision,” Rougas said. “And my understanding was there’s supposed to be someone there all the time.”

A spokesman for KG Group said there was in fact a supervisor on site.

“Our construction superintendent was in the process of closing down the site at the time and was giving instruction to a contractor inside the gate,” said Nathan Katz, the company’s senior VP of Planning and Development.

“We want to take this opportunity to reiterate how critically important the safety of students and parents is to us.”

The developer said it will be extending the safety guard’s hours beyond the site closure to include school pick up times.

An on-site supervisor and two traffic attendants were part of a deal KG Group struck with the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) to ensure safety at the school during construction.

The condo project has been a point of contention in the neighbourhood for months. The 35-storey building was rubber-stamped by the Ontario Municipal Board, even after Toronto city council rejected it.

Earlier this year, the TDSB debated whether it would have to close John Fisher during construction because it could pose a safety risk to students.

An external audit eventually led to the decision to keep it open, under the condition that the developer agree to 14 measures, including building a barrier wall, moving the playground, and installing air conditioners to allow the windows to be closed during warm months. But many parents, including Rougas, wondered who would be responsible for enforcement.

“What’s going to happen next time, and the next time, and the next time?” asked Rougas. “Where’s the incentive for the developer to actually ensure what they promised to do is done? I don’t see any fines happening.”

In a statement, the TDSB said it has been working with KG Group to ensure the safety of students.

“There is a rigorous mitigation and monitoring plan in place established by the TDSB and KG Group,” said spokeswoman Shari Schwartz-Maltz. “Both parties have independent third party monitors.”

KG Group also has a hotline and an email address where people can send concerns about the site.

Vlad Urukov, who has two children at John Fisher, said he’s been reporting safety issues for months with mixed results.

Last summer, when he pointed out a gap in this safety fence, he got a response and it was fixed the next day. Recently, it’s taken longer to hear back. He said he’s seen trucks parked on the sidewalk, forcing pedestrians to walk in the street.

Crews at the site of a condominium construction site near John Fisher Junior Public School. (HANDOUT/Vlad Urukov)

KG Group said it’s committed to addressing concerns in a timely manner. But it also claimed it hasn’t received any emails related to safety concerns.

The developer told Urukov it’s following up with its subcontractor about the truck parked on the street. But Urukov said the isolated incidents are part of a bigger problem.

“I think we’re talking about a broader, more systemic problem about construction sites and the way construction sites are being operated,”,he said.

“I’ve seen evidence that the developer is taking some steps, but I think that the bar is not sufficiently high. In other words, if the bar is low, they can do a little bit and say, ‘Oh look what we’re doing.’ But we need to raise the collective bar for safety around sites to be much higher, especially around dense areas.”

Coun. Jaye Robinson said there are ways for the city to lay fines against developers who break the rules.

“If there are a number of infractions, city staff would have to review that and consider fines,” she said. “Obviously, first they warn the developer, and say if you don’t cooperate, we will fine you.”

Still, she does believe there is room to improve the system, since the process isn’t immediate.

“We don’t have necessarily the teeth to deal with these issues,” she said. “That’s why we worked hard to create an unprecedented mitigation plan (for the KG Group).”