On June 7, the Rainy River Public Library received a letter from their landlord, Northern Sky Solutions, saying their rent would be nearly tripling on August 1.
“The library cannot afford to pay the amount demanded,” says a recent post from the library’s Facebook page. “We would go bankrupt.”
The library’s total budget this year is $89,000. Of that amount, $13,560 is budgeted for rent.
“We’re very disappointed that we’re leaving,” says Michael Dawber, librarian and CEO. “We don’t really understand why this is happening.”
Library veteran Dawber says he finds the rent increase both puzzling and upsetting.
“I’ve been doing this job for almost 25 years. I have never had to work through a situation like this one with a library facility owner,” he says. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”
Dawber says the library has been in this building since 2008, and have been dealing with Northern Sky for the past 18 months. The Times called Northern Sky’s owner Kaleb Firth on five separate occasions, leaving messages requesting a comment on the situation. As of publication time, he has not responded.
Rainy River mayor Deb Ewald, who is also the ex officio on the library board for the town, says the steep rent increase was a shock.
“This whole situation just came out of the blue and quite frankly, we weren’t prepared because we never expected it to come to this,” she says. “All we could do was just move forward.”
Dawber says the library had 13 days between the time it received the letter and the time the board had to make a decision on what to do. They had less than two weeks to find a new building.
Thankfully, Judi Helgeson, who owns and operates All Sew — a fabric store across the street — was already looking to retire and move out of the building.
“We spoke with her and we were able to come to terms,” says Dawber. “We’re extremely grateful for her help.”
The All Sew building is smaller than the library’s current one, and will likely need a few renovations.
“It’s doing the best you can in a not-a-great situation,” says Mayor Ewald. “People value the library, so the community is behind it.”
“Many people have been speaking out in support of ‘the town must continue to have a library’ because we’re so well used and so needed. People have made that very clear,” says Dawber. “We’re very grateful to the community for the support they’ve been giving us.”
He says many have volunteered to help move, and some have offered equipment as well. The library will need the most volunteers on July 27 and 28, which is when Dawber says the bulk of the move will be. He says they are also in desperate need of packing materials — newspapers, bubble wrap, etc. The library needs to pack over 20,000 items plus antiques, equipment, and various other things.
As it stands, the library’s last day at their current building will be Tuesday, July 26. They are to reopen at their new location a week later on Tuesday, August 2.
The library’s Facebook post says there are safety issues with the building they’re leaving.
“They’ve done air testing, and it’s not very good,” says Mayor Ewald. “So until that stuff is fixed, it’s really not safe for the employees or the public to use it long term.”
Dawber says there are two other tenants in the same building — ServiceOntario, and the Northwestern Health Unit (NWHU).
The NWHU says they have not been informed of a rent increase, but have decided to move their office space to the Rainy Health Centre over the next few months.
When asked if ServiceOntario is affected by the same rate increase or might need to relocate, Ellen Samek of the Ministry of Government and Consumer Services gave the following response:
“ServiceOntario is continuing to ensure exceptional service both in-person and online, in Rainy River and communities across the province. In addition to using physical locations, Ontarians can now also easily and quickly access 40 services online right from the comfort of their homes.”