TORONTO -- The chair of the country’s largest school board says that he is “confident” that there will be enough space to accommodate smaller class sizes in September, even if the number of students returning to fulltime in-person instruction ends up being higher than expected.

On Thursday the Toronto District School Board voted in favour of spending nearly $30 million of its reserves on the hiring of 280 new teachers.

The move will allow the board to maintain class caps of no more than 20 in schools that are located in neighbourhoods with higher rates of COVID-19 infections.

There is, however, the possibility that the lower class sizes will create the need for additional space.

The TDSB says that if 100 per cent of students were to opt to return to the classroom fulltime in September there would be a shortage of 71 classrooms across 34 schools.

That shortage drops to a much more manageable six classrooms across four schools if only 80 per cent of students return.

Speaking with CP24 on Friday morning, TDSB Chair Alexander Brown said that the 80 per cent threshold for returning students is “ideal” but he promised that the board will still have enough space even if a higher proportion of parents opt to send their children back to the classroom.

It just might mean that some students will have to attend classes at alternate facilities like city-run community centres and libraries, he said.

“I am confident that we will (have enough space),” Brown said. “The mayor and the City of Toronto have already put together a list of places that are available and it is more than enough for us at this point. If we need more we could work with the city but I think we are going to do this very well.”

The TDSB did complete a survey last week that found that 71 per cent of parents intend to send their children back for in-person learning into the fall. That number went up to 77 per cent when class sizes of 15 to 20 were guaranteed.

On CP24, Brown said that right now the board is “working on the assumption” that about 80 per cent of students will opt for in-person learning in the fall but he said that a registration email will be going out to parents next week to provide the board with a clearer picture ahead of the Sept. 15 resumption of classes.

“The 80 per cent option is ideal. Less than 80 per cent, in the 70 per cent range, is even more ideal,” he said of the number of students that opt for in-person learning.

The City of Toronto has already identified 36 rooms in 24 city-owned facilities that could easily be made available to the TDSB and TCDSB without having to cancel programming.

It has also identified nine library branches that have not yet reopened that could be made exclusively available schools if needed.

During an interview with CP24 on Friday morning, Mayor John Tory said that the city is going to do everything it can to help schools reopen safely, even though education falls under the provincial government’s jurisdiction.

“The key challenge of course will be to match up the spaces we have identified as being available with where they need them because it is not just random spaces, they need spaces in particular neighbourhoods,” he said.