Ontario elementary teachers' union building new HQ as membership prepares to strike

Media relations handler for ETFO, Valerie Dugale



TORONTO -- As elementary school teachers prepare to strike next month, the union that represents them is putting the finishing touches on its new state-of-the-art headquarters set to open in the spring.

The four-storey, 7,750-square-metre building at the corner of Huntley and Isabella Sts. exudes green technology and modern design from KPMB Architects and with it comes a presumably hefty price tag -- though the the Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario isn't saying how much.

The Canadian Taxpayers Federation said in the wake of ETFO holding "parents hostage," by striking, the choice to go ahead with construction demonstrates the union is putting its interests first.

"What it does point out is that teachers have a lot of money to invest and they are one of the wealthiest and privileged groups of people in the province," the federation's Ontario director Gregory Thomas said Friday. "At a time when everyone else is struggling, this building is a monument to the prosperity that teachers are enjoying."

Right now, the union occupies the 13th floor at 480 University Ave., near Dundas St. but will move to its new headquarters in March. The land at 15 Huntley St., which was previously the Children's Aid Society building, was sold for $6.2-million to ETFO in 2007, according to the Upper Jarvis Neighbourhood Association, and construction began May 2011.

Valerie Dugale, media relations handler for ETFO -- which represents 76,000 elementary public school teachers and education professionals -- said union president Sam Hammond was unavailable for comment "until sometime next week" and refused to divulge the capital costs are for this project.

But one teacher, who didn't wish to give her name, said she was dismayed ETFO poured all kinds of money into the Huntley development when the current headquarters is fine as is.

"I think knowing that our contracts were coming up for negotiation, perhaps it was not the best time to be thinking of a new building," she said.

"It begs the question of what was wrong with our old stomping grounds? If it ain't broke, don't fix it. I'm a resident of Toronto and it doesn't really make a difference to me where my union's head office is. It's no longer about putting kids first."

While Ontario Education Minister Laurel Broten declined to comment Friday on the new building, Conservative education critic Lisa MacLeod called it "a stunning hypocrisy" that ETFO would be opening such an "opulent" headquarters on the backs of their members.

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