Intriguing Questions Concerning the Construction of a School on Nun’s Island

Nun's Island - Isometric Perspective
Nun’s Island – Isometric Perspective

A friend forwarded me a press release from Projet Montreal concerning the planned location of a new primary school to be built on Nun’s Island (here’s a link to the study prepared by Projet Montreal). In effect, the press release and its adjoining study are both a proposal for an alternative location inasmuch as a condemnation of the previous Union Montreal borough government for their insistence on such a poor initial location – a school located on what was once a part of a park, between two major thoroughfares.

For those who don’t know, Nun’s Island is a planned community occupying Ile des Soeurs, formerly Ile Saint-Paul, an island in the Saint Lawrence River connected to the Island of Montreal via the Decarie and Bonaventure Expressways and to the mainland via the Champlain Bridge. Nun’s Island is one of the most modern residential communities in Montreal (the island has several buildings designed by Mies van der Rohe, including an iconic former ESSO station, itself to be converted into a community centre), and has rapidly grown to be home to some 20,000 people. Development over the last decade has been particularly significant, with many new condo towers built, in addition to the head office campus of Bell Canada.

Nun’s Island is a particular part of the city of Montreal; it is a mature Modernist planned community, and while not exactly emblematic of the city as a whole, certainly fully encapsulates the aesthetic and living vision of modernist urban living as conceived by city planners some fifty years ago. It’s too bad there’s nothing to do there (i.e. no restaurants, bars, venues etc – or at least none you’d make the trip out for), because from what I’ve heard it’s a dream to live there. Nun’s Island looks good and feels good, the parks and greenbelt doing an excellent job offering a more suburban lifestyle despite being so close to the guts of the city.

But as you can see in the aerial perspective above, Nun’s Island is beginning to fill out, and if there’s any desire to maintain the natural aesthetic that has sustained so much development here over the last two decades, then it would be wise to develop a Nun’s Island specific master plan. Such a plan should aim to manage residential development while also stimulating new poles of attraction on the island (such as the location of a new school), all the while doing as much as possible to retain as much green space as possible.

The construction of a new school is immensely beneficial, not only for current and prospective residents, but further as a key element of a master plan for the island and attraction driver. Which is why, in my opinion inasmuch as Projet Montreal, the currently favoured location is deeply flawed. Aside from being too close to major streets with heavy traffic (and, for that reason, in the middle of an urban heat zone), the current plan has the school occupying a small strip of an existing park.

Though Nun’s Island is pretty green, a lot of what you see above is land waiting to be developed – the park in question is in the midst of an already heavily populated area, one that needs all the park space it can get.

Projet’s recommended alternative location is further south, adjacent to the small man made lake. From what I gathered in the press release, Jack L. Kugelmass, Projet Montreal city councillor candidate for Nun’s Island, has been vocal about this issue for some time, and has met with a fair bit of opposition from the former Union Montreal government in Verdun borough hall. Kugelmass’ proposal has been countered with an argument the land is contaminated, but Projet Montreal’s own research has confirmed methane present in the ground is not in fact sufficient enough to be a health concern. In sum, it seems that the current borough government has been doing everything it can to prevent this alternative site from even being considered. What’s worse is that the current location is too small for anticipated future needs, likely resulting in expansion of the school into the park.

This is unacceptable according to Kugelmass and Projet Montreal, and I see their point – though it strikes me that their alternative location would be a good spot for yet another condominium tower.

Makes me wonder what was really driving Union Montreal’s proposal…