Valley Park Middle School is set to become a hub of the community and forge a sense of unity between the Flemingdon Park and Thorncliffe Park neighbourhoods.

Its cricket field, which is part of the $1.9 million Valley Park Centre of Excellence (VPCE),  is currently under construction and is expected to be completed in summer 2014 for public use. Construction commenced on 4 October 2013.

Initially called the Valley Park Go Green Cricket Field Project, the VPCE will be completed in two phases. Phase One includes a multi-sport cricket pitch surrounded by two soccer fields, a baseball diamond, cricket and baseball practice cages, an amphitheatre, a running track, a bioswale, a wetland with a boardwalk, an urban forest, and a butterfly meadow.

The idea for the grassroots project, run by a non-profit entity called the Valley Park Community Association, formed in March 2010. “When I met with my colleague, Nick Stefanoff, he told me of three teachers at Valley Park that wanted a butterfly garden. One of our colleagues, Shompa Hai, suggested the idea of rainwater harvesting off the school rooftop. Jason Haider, Valley Park’s former vice-principal and cricket coach, mentioned that cricket was very popular at the school. Everything began to come together then,” said Lisa Grogan-Green, the co-chair of VPCE.

Though the idea formed in March 2010, said Mrs. Grogan-Green, the fundraising did not begin until 31 December 2010, when an application was approved for $50 000 from the TD Friends of the Environment Foundation. Planning and fundraising continued throughout 2011, and were relatively completed by June 2012.

“Our major setback in 2013 was applying for grants and completing paperwork,” said Mrs. Grogan-Green.

VPCE managed to raise around $1.2 million solely for Phase One of the project. “After so much hard work, it’s begun,” said Nick Stefanoff, principal of Valley Park MS and co-chair of VPCE. “We could never have achieved this without the help of community activists, staff, parents and youth from the two neighbourhoods. Their vision has made this possible.”

VPCE has also sublicensed the new field, so that the public can use the field after 6 pm on school days and all day long on weekends and holidays. “The cricket field will allow everyone to stay connected. For the community at large, it will be an outdoor space they can call their own,” said Aparna Mishra, VPCE’s Executive Director.

Valley Park Go Green Cricket Field (6)

Construction begins at Valley Park MS. Photo: Noor Mah

Last spring, several students were trained by VPCE as cricket coaches. They now teach clinics Tuesday and Thursday evenings at Valley Park. Currently, VPCE is going to run two modules for males and females for the National Coaching Certification Program in November.

“The first module is Making Ethical Decisions, based around teaching leadership skills. The second module is Fundamental Movement Skills, a session for our youth to become coaches for younger children. We want to empower the coaches to become community leaders,” said Mrs. Mishra.

The purpose of this new community initiative is not solely recreational, however. Mrs. Mishra said, “The Wetlands Centre for Excellence program, sponsored by Ducks Unlimited, will train students from Marc Garneau CI as mentors in their wetland curriculum called ‘Project Webfoot.’ These young leaders would then go to feeder schools and teach third and fourth graders, using the VPCE wetland to demonstrate.”

The completion of Phase One would lead to Phase Two, valuing around $700 000, which aims to add a scoreboard, outdoor sports lights, a community food garden, a refurbished basketball court, and a living donor wall.

Fundraising for Phase Two, primarily by the Neighbourhood Canvass, a group of volunteers, is underway right now. “Currently, our top priorities are the sports lights and the scoreboard. The total cost for the two is $400 000, and we’ve raised around $220 000, so we have a way to go.”

The $1.9 million project is expected to be completed in the summer of 2015. “It’s no longer just about cricket. It’s about the arts, education, and ecology. I want Valley Park to bring about a sense of unity between Thorncliffe Park and Flemingdon Park. We want this project to generate pride and a sense of belonging in the community, as well as evoke appreciation of the environment,” Mr. Stefanoff said.