uToronto's planned Astroturf Pan Am Games field spurs controversy

February 5, 2013

Not everyone agrees with the University of Toronto's $9.5-million plan to build a world-class field hockey pitch to be used in the 2015 Pan American Games. The natural grass at the back campus field will be ripped up and replaced with artificial turf -- to the horror of some on campus. Nearly all members of the University College Council voted in favour of a motion to register "strong concerns" about the loss of green space on campus last fall. One professor sent a memo to the governing council outlining his "environmental, health and social concerns" about artificial turf fields. He says many alumni and professors have also written to complain. "This plan would have a major impact on our environment, in the university community as well as downtown Toronto and beyond," he says. uToronto says it completed all required assessments with Infrastructure Canada and the Pan Am Games. Soil and archeological assessments were needed, but not a full environment assessment. Toronto Star

Postscript: June 11, 2013

In response to the University of Toronto’s controversial plans to convert their back-campus grass area into an astro-turf playing field for use during the 2015 Pan-American Games, Toronto councillor Adam Vaughan has moved to designate the space “a cultural heritage landscape.” If the recommendation passes at Council next week, it would mean the end of the $9.5 million project for field hockey and para soccer at the Games. “[uToronto] was created in a pastoral setting to replicate the great universities of Europe. The back field campus has always been green,” Vaughan said. “It’s a new kind of thinking about heritage that’s made possible with the provincial heritage act.”  uToronto VP of university operations said the project had the full support of the city in 2009, and that the university was blindsided by Vaughan’s move. “How do you protect grass that’s heritage if you’re going to play on it? Frankly, much of the year it’s a mud pit.” The Toronto Star

June 14, 2013

Toronto city council has voted against turning the University of Toronto’s back campus into a heritage site – a motion that would have barred the university from using the space for an astro-turf playing field for use during the 2015 Pan-American Games. The 31-12 vote to support the artificial field means that the plans can proceed. Officials from the Games and the university expressed relief over the decision. “This was a serious issue and we’re pleased that council has taken this prudent decision,” said Teddy Katz, a Toronto Pan Am spokesman. “This is a very important showcase venue for the Toronto 2015 Pan and Parapan Am games. It’s going to be a world-class sports facility.” National Post | uToronto News Release