Office of Councillor Jeff Leiper, Kitchissippi Ward, Ottawa | (613) 580-2485  |
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At Library Board last night – next steps towards a new library

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There’s been some good press last night and this morning about what transpired at the Ottawa Public Library Board last night: another step towards achieving an expanded new branch.

The details are a bit convoluted, and I hope this post helps residents understand how the decisions made at that meeting help us.

Broadly, since the consultations the Rosemount Expansion and Development group and I held over the spring and summer, the community has largely focused on getting a new branch nearby to the current location. There has been growing acceptance that expanding the existing branch would likely cost too much money to achieve too little usable space. While I’m grateful for the patience and hard work of all involved, leasing discussions in one of the new buildings have run their course.

READ, community groups and I have come to the conclusion that if we’re ever to get the space we need, we need a new branch.

Last night, Library staff presented a report that spoke broadly to how it should proceed over the next couple of decades to renew, build or replace facilities across the system. We all acknowledge that there are parts of the City that are fast-growing and that don’t even have a branch. I don’t want to underestimate the challenge of advocating for a new branch when there are significant numbers of Ottawa residents who don’t have a local library.

In that context, staff presented a third-party-prepared report that recommended building some new libraries – with funding largely provided by the development charges dedicated for that purpose in new suburbs. For Rosemount, it recommended that the building be renovated – what we think would certainly be a $1 million project or more. The money to accomplish that is largely already in the bank with a strong expectation that any gap would be funded at budget time. That renovation could allow for a more efficient use of the space (for example with rolling bookshelves and layout changes), but few consider that it would provide the kind of space for study, meeting, technology and expanded collections that residents are seeking.

But, we had a very good discussion with the Board last night (I presented on behalf of the community though I don’t sit on that body), about the continued need to explore other opportunities. If we are going to get a new branch, a business case will have to be built around exploring alternative sites, and comparing the costs of building new versus continued investment in this very old building.

We were heard very sympathetically. Growth in Hintonburg has been rapid, and we’d like to take a second look at some of the population assumptions that the Library’s contractor has made. We have had a very good discussion with Board staff and Chair Tim Tierney over the past months, and there is broad recognition that there are still stones unturned in terms of the potential to use municipal land to build a new branch. The community’s clear message – we’re willing to wait understanding fiscal challenges – has helped.

Ultimately, the Board asked staff to return at budget time not just with their existing recommendations on how to manage their facilities moving forward, but with an option that would essentially put a pause on the current renovation plan pending an undertaking to build a business case for a new branch. In other words, rather than renovating in 2017, Library staff would undertake a review in 2017 of alternative locations and whether it would make sense to build a new branch versus renovate the old. The recommendations from that review would inform the Library’s 2018 budget requests.

Coming out of last night’s meeting, nothing is settled. I do believe that it would have been easy for the Board to give us a sympathetic hearing, then adopt the current recommendation on the basis of an exhaustive expert report and financial and demographic realities. But, they didn’t. Board members recognized the legitimacy of our position, and have left the door open to exploring creative solutions.

The crunch will come at budget time. Staff will explain late this fall to the Board how undertaking a business case for a new branch will affect their workplan and overall budget. Staff will likely come forward with a recommendation at that time: take one more year of study to ensure we’ve looked at all options, or move forward with a renovation. I and the community hope their recommendation will be the former.

I’m encouraged this morning that the door is still very much open to a new Rosemount Library in a space that meets the modern needs of our community. The discussion with the Board and Library staff has been generous and honest since late this spring when we kick-started our consultations. The next couple of months will be critical, but last night’s Board meeting was a positive one.

Posted September 7, 2016