Man Builds Park Stairs For $550, Irking City After $65,000 Estimate

There are times when you just have to take things into your own hands if you want something to be done. 

That’s precisely what this man from Toronto did when his community garden was in desperate need of new park stairs. Now, the city has threatened to remove them.

In the summer of 2017, Adi Astl of Etobicoke in Toronto, Canada just couldn’t watch his friends and neighbors struggle, slip, and fall down the steep hill that leads down to their community garden in Tom Riley Park anymore. He had no more patience to wait for the estimated $65,000 to $150,000 city project to solve the issue, so he got in action by himself.

“To me, the safety of people is more important than money,” he said. “So if the city is not willing to do it, I have to do it myself.”

 Astl, who is a retired mechanic, built the staircase for only $550, with the help of contributions from his community. He even hired a homeless man to help him with that task. Soon after he finished, he was notified by the city that they were threatening to tear it down.

The entire community was grateful to Astl for doing that job and was not satisfied with the city’s decision to tear the stairs down.

“I’ve seen so many people fall over that rocky path that was there, to begin with,” Astl’s wife, Gail Rutherford said. “It’s a huge improvement over what was there.”

One of their neighbors slipped last year and broke her wrist when she was navigating the hill. After that incident, many people were angry because it was taking too long for the city to actually do something to solve the problem.

“We have far too much bureaucracy,” said Dana Beamon, a member of the community. “We don’t have enough self-initiative in our city, so I’m impressed.”

Even with all this, it didn’t take long for city bylaw officers to cordon off the park stairs with caution tape.

Mayor John Tory explained that the reason why the city was not satisfied with the work was Astl’s custom build. The biggest concerns were safety and accessibility. It was stated by the city inspectors that the steps were not built according to code. Three principal problems with them were :

-- Unsafe railing

-- Uneven incline

-- No foundation

The mayor also indicated that the hill is in fact a shortcut to the garden from the parking lot and that there is another accessible path that goes to the garden.

Tory did agree that the quoted project expense looked pretty high for what it was. Yet, he did say, that even though it should cost far less than the estimated $65,000, it would be more expensive than Astl’s $550.

“I think everyone will understand that it will be more than $550,” Tory said. “We just can’t have people decide to go out to Home Depot and build a staircase in a park because that’s what they would like to have.” 

Seemingly, the city based the first estimate on projects in other parks, but, Tory asked his personnel to revisit the project and come up with something much more sensible.

Even though the city removed Astl’s stairs, they replaced them with a version that they approved. Yet, Astl was not bitter with that, because he was just happy that he was the reason something got done about this matter at last.

“I was relieved last night when the mayor phoned me… to thank me to help the city to realize what they are doing is not the right thing,” he told CTV News Channel in July 2017. “A whole big stone fell from my heart and said, ‘Now we’re going to get somewhere in helping people be safe.’”

For Astl, the project wasn’t about defying the city or trying to do anything that will upset someone. He just detected a problem that wasn’t being solved and solved it to protect his community.

In a written statement that the mayor released just before the reconstruction began, he expressed gratitude to Astl for his help in initiating the completion of the project.

“I want to thank Mr. Astl for taking a stand on this issue,” the mayor added. “His homemade steps have sent a message that I know City Staff have heard loud and clear.”

It was estimated that the new steps would cost $10,000 and they were built in a couple of days. The mayor promised that future project estimates would be much more sensible.

“We’re also going to take a look at how this process works today so that we can make sure that these kinds of crazy estimates don’t become just a continuous part of how things happen because they shouldn’t,” Tory said.

So now the residents of the Tom Riley Park area of Etobicoke have a safe set of stairs right next to their community garden, thanks to one man – Adi Astl.