Wednesday, February 28, 2024

With Regard to the Library Proposal – Don’t Everyone Freak Out

Stephen Vance, Editor

It’s not uncommon for people to launch into attack mode whenever they hear that their council has been presented with a proposal that could cost the municipality (and ultimately ratepayers’ pocketbooks) in the neighbourhood of $5 million (which is understandable – $5 million is a pretty expensive neighbourhood).

That’s what I was thinking as I took in the presentation to council on Monday that was focused on some options for the Meaford Public Library.

So before I begin – don’t everyone freak out, it’s just a proposal, and there’s still plenty of information to come, many tough decisions to be made, and many factors to consider, not the least of which of course, is where the heck the money would come from.

It’s no secret that Meaford has been in need of a new building to house our library for several years. Many will recall our library being out of service but for a small storefront makeshift mini-library for a few months back in 2009 after a clogged rooftop drainage pipe flooded the library causing extensive damage to all three floors. Repairs were made, and the library reopened, but in the years since, the ageing building has continued to experience issues that make it a less than ideal long-term home for the library in its current state.

The condition of the building aside, it is also not very user friendly. Accessibility is a real issue for the building. Every inch of the three floors of the current library building are in full use – from the basement through to the third level – yet there is no elevator, only stairs. Even on the main level, anyone in a wheelchair can only access a small lobby area, and not the actual book collection, let alone the children’s library in the basement, or the meeting rooms on the top floor.

The problem has always been what to do. How does a small town come up the the funds to build a brand new library without taxing their residents beyond what they are able to pay? If the library is to be moved somewhere else, where could it go?

A couple years back council was presented with some options for building a brand new library building at Market Square. The estimated cost was in the $6 million range. As tends to happen with costly potential proposals, it was neatly filed away on a shelf waiting for the stars to align, and the funding to fall from the sky. Nothing has been acted on, no money has been spent on the 2014 proposal, but some folks freaked out a bit at the time thinking the project was going to move forward.

The $4.4 to $5 million proposal to merge the current library with the municipal administration building located next door, is certainly cheaper than the proposal to build a brand new facility that was pitched in 2014 – or is it?

Not included in the costs thus far is where the municipal administration offices – which currently use a full 6,000 square feet of space – will be relocated. Unless the municipality has a building hidden away that I’m not aware of that could accommodate that much space and that many employees, a new building would need to be constructed. True, last year Meaford’s Treasurer told council that construction costs for an administration building would be significantly less than for a library, in part because in his words “an administration building can be less shiny”, but it would still cost a significant amount of money to build a new 6,000 square foot (if they only replace the space they currently have) office building.

I would bet you could add at least another million dollars to the project to build a new administration office, bringing the total amount of money required to just about the estimated cost of building a brand new structure at Market Square.

My advice to our readers is to not freak out, but rather to pay attention, and see how things unfold.

Don’t freak out just because council has been presented with a proposal. Council can’t just march over to Trowbridge Street and tell the municipal office staff to pack up their workspaces to make room for contractors. There is a ton of work yet to be done before a shovel would even be planted in the ground – if it ever does happen.

And if you’re an ardent library supporter who is rooting for a new library, don’t freak out when you hear councillors rightly point out that the municipality is staring down both barrels of an infrastructure crisis that is going to require millions of new dollars every year to come from somewhere in order to ensure that our roads don’t crumble, and our old bridges don’t collapse, so $5 million for a new library just isn’t possible. They aren’t wrong, but at the same time, the library board could far exceed fundraising expectations, and new grant opportunities could come along that could significantly reduce the amount of ratepayers’ money that would be required for a new library.

I hope a right-sized solution can be found, because whether we think our municipality should spend any money on anything, there’s no denying that the library building badly needs to be replaced or given an extreme makeover if it is to be made to last much longer.

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