Local advocates save Plouffe Park from development

A blue and green sign with the wording “Save Plouffe park” is seen in the park.
Plouffe Park has been saved from development. A proposed French elementary school will be built elsewhere on the site. Photo Charlie Senack.

By Hannah Wanamaker

For over a century, Little Italy’s Plouffe Park has been a communal outdoor gathering space hosting everything from soccer games to holiday parties and the circus.

 So when draft plans were released that would see part of the park developed, residents in the area were not pleased. 

In May 2023, the city presented a proposed plan to develop 1010 Somerset St., a large chunk of land in the Corso Italia neighbourhood around where Plouffe Park sits. The draft included new and updated recreation facilities, affordable housing towers, a new park space and a new facility for the Louise-Arbour Elementary School on top of the current Plouffe Park grounds. 

“We were surprised to see the school on Plouffe Park,” said Cheryl Parrott, a member of local advocacy coalition P4X. The coalition consists of the Plant Pool Recreation Association, Dalhousie Community Association, Hintonburg Community Association and the Recreation Association of Hintonburg.

“When we became aware that the city had purchased the land at 1010 Somerset St., we came together to see if we could influence whatever happened there to make sure there was adequate green space and adequate recreation,” she said. 

While green space was allocated to another part of the project, parkland in the neighborhood would have been lost for up to a decade while construction work on the site happened.  

With 7,000 new housing units expected to be built in Corso Italia over the next four years, Parrott said the development “really had to focus on the local needs,” including additional green space and recreation facilities.

An ice rink on a cold winters day with snow on the ground.
Plouffe Park has been one of Little Italy’s only parcels of greenspace for over a century. Photo by Charlie Senack.

The Louise-Arbour Elementary School community also successfully pleaded to the city that its new facility desperately needed a place on the development. 

For two years, Sheena McLeish, a mom of two, has advocated on the Parent Council for the French educational experience their children deserve.

“This isn’t just a building being proposed in this park space. It’s an urgently needed school that hundreds of children in our community are currently stuck in,” she said.

According to McLeish, the school currently rents the annex of a dated school owned by the Ottawa Catholic School Board. The facility is over capacity by 130 per cent and has added five portables to mitigate the growing population of over 300 students. 

Fridges and photocopiers are stored in hallways, and there is no dedicated gym, playground, library, or adequate space for teachers to meet students one-on-one, she added. 

Over the past seven years, the school board has searched for a new school location for French youth in the community. Building a new school on the Gladstone Village site in 2016 seemed promising until the provincial government denied the funding, said McLeish. 

“Currently, there is no other option that will see that the school is built within the next three-to-four-year time frame.”

In June 2023, Councillor Ariel Troster arranged a meeting between the land’s stakeholders to discuss how to better address the community’s needs following the release of the draft plan. 

“We didn’t want to see unnecessary conflict created around what is actually going to be a really exciting development for the community. It seemed really unnecessary to pit a school against a park. We need both.”

She added that building a school in a highly urbanized area means the school would likely “be taller with more stories.” 

“I think the original site plan set up a conflict that didn’t need to be there,” she said. “I think now we can get on the same page, working together to say: we want adequate green space for the entire community but we also want to have safety and a really great school building for kids.”

A slightly tilted snowman on a bright sunny day with blue skies.
A snowman seen in Plouffe Park in Jan. 2024. Photo by Charlie Senack.

Though the updated plan had not been released at the time of publication, the city has guaranteed that a large strip of green space will run from the new Corso Italia LRT station and mixed-use pathway down to Preston St., said Troster. 

The new French school is now planned to be built on Somerset. P4X and parent council members have since banded together to educate the community about the development plans. 

McLeish said that P4X members explained the importance of increasing green space in their rapidly growing neighbourhood.

“It’s really important for us that the green space be designed in a way that maximizes its use,” said McLeish, adding it must allow the students to “grow and learn” while supporting the greater community. 

Parrott added that it must also be a “functional and multiuse green space,” with sports fields and areas to roam.

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