Toronto-area athletic club locked out of local stadium

birchmount track

Scarborough, Ont’s., Birchmount Stadium and Birchmount Park in Toronto’s east end have been an integral part of the running community, providing a venue for athletes to train and compete. However, since the resurfacing of the track for the 2015 Pan Am Games, access to the only rubberized track in Scarborough has become increasingly limited, causing frustration among athletes and community members.

Ben Devito, a proud Scarborough resident, runner and coach of Toronto’s Blue Devils Athletics Club, grew up in the area and cherishes his memories of Birchmount Stadium. “When the track was resurfaced for the 2015 Pan Am Games, the fences went up and public access became restricted without a permit,” says Devito. The battle for continued access during the pandemic, further aggravating the challenges faced by members of the Scarborough community.

Ben Devito
Blue Devils head coach Ben Devito chatting to CTV News outside Birchmount Park Stadium in Scarborough, Ont. Photo @bluedevilsac/Instagram

Devito’s club boasts 300 athletes from a diverse range of abilities, with around 200 of his athletes regularly trying to access Birchmount Stadium for training. “What frustrates me is that our local high school and university athletes, who live just minutes away from this track, have to travel across Toronto to find a rubberized track,” Devito passionately states.

The issue

There are two main issues plaguing the facility: the lack of community hours and restrictive permit policies from the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) that limit access. “It is time for a change,” says Devito.

Since the pandemic, designated community hours have been absent at Birchmount Track. “Essentially, the TDSB has monopolized the permits for Birchmount Stadium on weekdays, leaving no room for community use since permits cannot overlap,” Devito explains. “The fact there are also no community hours allotted on weekends further compounds the issue.”

There has been promising news that the city is launching a pilot program in July and August, allowing members of the community to use the track between 7 and 11 am and making it available to Athletics Ontario clubs between 2 and 5 pm Devito believes there’s still work to be done as the new regulations make it challenging for the general public to access the track unless they are available during those specific hours; and when the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) resumes its activities in September, community access will again become restricted.

Public access to 400m athletic tracks in Toronto is scarce, and there are only a few rubberized tracks that allow public community hours. Central Technical School, located in the Harbord Village, is one of them. Even though the track is on high school property, it is privately owned by a company that manages permits and gives TDSB priority access during school hours. When the track is not being used by the school, community hours are in place.

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The petition

To address these issues, Devito created a petition on June 16 and has garnered tremendous support from the community, kneading 1,800 signatures and counting. The petition catalyzes change, urging the city to reassess the current situation and recognize the importance of access to sporting facilities not only in Toronto but across Canada. “By signing the petition, sharing the story, and leaving comments, individuals can contribute to the collective effort of breaking down barriers and making sports more accessible,” says Devito.

“Every member of the community contributes their hard-earned taxpayer dollars to maintain the stadium,” Devito says. “It’s only fair that the community has the opportunity to utilize it.”

Devito’s proposed solution involves introducing a stadium schedule online and allowing community members to use the track or field during TDSB permit hours when the facility is not in use, “It will effectively reduce costs for everyone involved,” he says. “There needs to be more than one permit and you currently can’t book permits together, so if a soccer team was using the field, our club can’t use the track.”

“The key to breaking down these barriers lies in the support of the community. Signing the petition, sharing the story, and leaving comments are crucial steps toward effecting change,” says Devito.

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