When thoughtfully planned, podiums are an opportunity for developers to create mixed-use neighbourhoods and add value to the streetscape. Some Toronto condos have grocery stores in the podium for maximum convenience, while others use the space for outdoor seating or unique retail opportunities to attract specific demographics. However, there has recently been discussion around the idea of using podiums to address human needs such as health centres, libraries, and community centres. Some have even suggested building a condominium with an elementary school in the podium.
This taps into a larger problem facing several of Toronto’s growing neighbourhoods. In 2012, CBC News reported that the Toronto District School Board had started posting notices in some school boards warning buyers of condos that there might not be enough room for their children in local schools. High Park Counselor Sarah Doucette proposed building secondary schools in apartment buildings.
More recently, in July of 2015, CityPlace announced that it would be spending millions to build new schools and daycares to meet the rising demand for family services. When CityPlace was first built it was mostly populated by young singles. However, now there’s a growing number of families in the neighbourhood that require amenities to support them. Over $55 million of development fees will be spent to build a complex that will house two schools, a daycare, and a community centre.
What if developers focused on using their podiums to address human needs, like elementary schools, daycares, and health clinics? What are the pros and cons of building elementary or secondary schools in condominium podiums? We try break it down for you:
Toronto’s housing pricing makes it difficult for young families to invest in a detached home or even a townhome. This means more couples are starting their families in condos, and daycares are becoming an increasingly important amenity for this demographic. Putting a school in the podium of a condo can help address the needs of growing families by providing daycare, after-school programs, and education without the hassle of bussing children to neighbouring school zones. Toronto’s daycares are also notoriously difficult to get into, so incorporating spaces for childcare and education will help meet these demands.
Convenient daycare and affordable living for young couples
Jane Jacobs touted the importance of mixed-use neighbourhoods and they are becoming increasingly important to homebuyers in today’s market. You can’t have a neighbourhood composed entirely of condominium towers and office buildings. Developers need to make sure that there’s a good mix of health services, libraries, retail, parks, and community centres to attract both buyers and investors. By integrating a school into the podium of the condo, developers have the opportunity to both invest in the community and contribute to the creation of a mixed-use neighbourhood. Additionally, young families are less enthused by the idea of suburbia, and are looking for affordable opportunities to live in the city. Mixed-use family-friendly neighbourhoods are a great way to attract a generation that is rejecting the sprawl.
Mixed-use neighbourhoods are becoming more important in the housing industry
There is the potential to lower emissions by eliminating the need to drive or bus children to neighbouring school districts. It also helps fight congestion in a city that already suffers from extreme traffic issues during the rush hour periods. This also goes hand-in-hand with the push to create more mixed-use communities. Young families aren’t looking for long commutes to work and school. They prefer to inhabit neighbourhoods where they can walk or cycle to work, dropping the kids off on the way.
A school might scare away investors
How would a school affect maintenance fees? Investors aren’t looking for hefty fees because they want to make as much money as possible while renting. Would it be difficult to find someone to rent a unit built atop a school? Also, investors often favor condos that offer one-bedroom suites and studios because it’s much easier to find single renters. A condo featuring a school in the podium would likely integrate larger units for growing families.
Some millennials are looking for retail space and greenspace
Today the single household is the fastest-growing category in Canada’s housing market, and single women represent a significant portion of these real estate purchases. This demographic is career-centric and typically aren’t looking to start a family quite yet. Offering a school in the podium might not create the same appeal as retail space, a vibrant streetlife, or accessible greenspace and leash-free parks.
Zoning complications and the School Board can hold up construction
Zoning and School Board district complications can make an elementary or secondary school an extra headache for developers and deter them from making the commitment. Additionally, schools are (often) public institutions, meaning an elementary school would turn the space into a public-private partnership explains president of Housing Lab Toronto, Jeanhy Shim. “It’s not enough to say ‘put a daycare.’ It comes down to who’s going to run it and who’s going to operate it,” Shim told the Toronto Star.
In the end, what it basically comes down to is whether or not there’s an actual demand for this kind of condo in the GTA. Do you think there should be schools in condominium podiums? Would you live in a condo unit above a school? Share your thoughts with us on Facebook or Twitter.