By Joanna Lavoie, Toronto.com
September 17, 2019
A $2.1-million renovation will transform the busy Eastview Neighbourhood Community Centre into a much more accessible place.
Located at 86 Blake St. in the Blake-Boultbee neighbourhood, the well-used facility is home to a community centre, a Boys and Girls Club, an Ontario Early Learning Centre, and a City of Toronto-run daycare.
“This is a busy place for all ages and abilities,” said executive director, Kerry Bowser, during a recent interview and tour.
Eastview Neighbourhood Community Centre first opened its doors at its current home, a former Dominion grocery store, in the mid-1970s. Aside from the installation of two new kitchens and an elevator upgrade about two years ago, the building hasn’t had any major work in more than 40 years.
“There’s hasn’t been a major infrastructure upgrade since the building was reconfigured for a community centre in the 70s,” Bowser noted.
And while Eastview — which serves residents roughly bounded by the Don Valley to the west, Gerrard Street East to the south, Greenwood Avenue to the east and Danforth Avenue to the north — has an elevator, door ramps, and accessible entryways as well as some lowered sinks and grab bars in the washrooms, it needs a lot more to be considered fully-accessible.
About a year ago, the local community centre learned that it was getting an accessibility upgrade. Bowser said initially it was thought $500,000 was enough to do the job, but after thoroughly evaluating the space, the cost of the work grew to more than $2 million.
“We went through every corner to identify how to make (Eastview) more accessible. We want to give the centre’s users more independence,” he said.
“In the end, the city agreed to make an investment in accessibility at Eastview. It’s very exciting.”
The work at Eastview — which will entail widening doorways, installing new access ramps, upgrading and creating a new non-gender washroom, relocating walls and office spaces, and painting and replacing floors and ceiling tiles, among other things — will be done in phases. The goal is to cause as little disruption as possible, Bowser noted. There may be some temporary relocation of programs, but Eastview will work closely with Toronto Community Housing and the Toronto District School Board to figure those details out along the way. The renovations will start this fall and should wrap up by the spring of 2020.
Thirty-year staffer Ursula Nau knows first-hand the challenges those with restricted mobility face to get around the centre.
Earlier this year, Nau, who is Eastview’s family resource program co-ordinator, had surgery and lost the use of her legs; she now uses a motorized wheelchair.
“I never had to think about (accessibility) before I was put in a wheelchair,” she shared.
Nau said it’s especially hard to enter or exit her place of work through the side door, as there’s a bit of an uneven lip that catches the wheels of her mobility device. As a result, she must back into the building to enter or get someone to help her.
“There have always been struggles getting things in the side door. It’s too tight to even bring supplies inside the centre,” she added.
Further, the gymnasium, where Nau spends a lot of her time, doesn’t have an automatic door opener.
“It’s difficult for me to come in the gym, but it’s also difficult for the nannies to come in with the stroller,” she said, adding that it’s a safety hazard to keep the door open as children may run out.
Nau also said she finds it hard to use the washrooms, as the grab bars aren’t in the right place.
For 15 years, caregiver Raquel Garcia has visited Eastview’s early learning centre with her charges. She said it’s a struggle to get in the building with a double stroller.
“It’s difficult to get in the front and gym doors. It’s a tight squeeze,” said Garcia — who, like many, has to ask someone for help to lift the buggy through the doorway.
“I love bringing the kids to Eastview. (These upgrades) will really help all caregivers and mothers.”
Toronto-Danforth Coun. Paula Fletcher called the renos at Eastview “deep and thorough,” and said they’ll ensure the actively-used city-owned building meets the province’s accessibility standards.
“It’s a fantastic upgrade for Eastview. This is a really good news story,” she said.