Council votes down new library project

Duane Hicks

Before a crowd of about 50 library supporters, town council voted 5-2 last night against the contract to build the new Fort Frances Public Library and Technology Centre.
Council voted on a recommendation from the Fort Frances Public Library board to enter into a contact with Aurora Construction, in the amount of $3,733,219, to proceed with construction of the new library and technology centre according to the plans and specifications prepared by Chamberlain Architects.
The total project cost, including professional fees, furniture, and equipment, is $4.7 million.
Couns. Andrew Hallikas and Sharon Tibbs voted in favour of going ahead with the project while Mayor Roy Avis and Couns. John Albanese, Ken Perry, Paul Ryan, and Rick Wiedenhoeft said nay.
According to the project budget submitted to council last week, the municipal share of the cost was estimated to be about $1.3 million—$240,000 from a dedicated reserve, $50,000 in in-kind services, and $1.09 million in long-term debt.
But several members of council reiterated yesterday evening that they had serious concerns the town’s portion would end up being much higher than that, and that even $1.3 million is considerably greater than $592,000—the maximum amount council passed a motion to contribute last spring.
This increase would be higher due to any number of possible factors, ranging from whether or not the old library is sold, whether or not a $170,000 grant from FedNor will come through, and the cost of paving the new library’s parking lot.
The last item had been trimmed out of the most recent proposed library budget, but several councillors said it should be put back in so the parking lot would comply with the town’s own property standards.
Another concern among council members was a foreseen increase in operating costs at the new larger facility.
“I think that the plan for the library we have is too grand of a scheme for us,” said Coun. Ken Perry. “I’m afraid that down the road, not very far down the road, we’re not going to be able to afford the budget of a new library.
“Famously, when you build a bigger building, the budget for the new building is bigger than the old budget, and that’s what’s going to happen here.”
Noting that no one on council is against the idea of a new library and technology centre here, Mayor Roy Avis said after the meeting that he’s hopeful the town can figure out a way build a new one in the near future at a more manageable cost.
Library board chair Joyce Cunningham said afterwards she was heartbroken by council’s decision and felt the project is “dead.”
“Last Monday, I said that if it was defeated, there would be a few tears. There have been some already right here now, there will be more,” she noted.
“I am extremely disappointed with what has happened.
“The community deserves to have a new library, and we had such a good chance of getting a wonderful library and technology centre for this community,” Cunningham added.
Also at last night’s meeting, council:
•deferred any decision on the proposed relocation and refurbishment of the Hallett and lookout tower pending further information from Tom Jones Construction (this will be available to council by its next meeting April 27);
•was presented with a certificate by Northwest Youth Action Alliance youth advisor Angela Tyrvainen, and peer leaders Kelsey Dillon and Tiffany Whalen, in a show of appreciation for council’s decision last year to prohibit smoking within 30 feet of the entrances to the Memorial Sports Centre (the YAA also gave a certificate to Dr. Lorena Jenks, who suggested council put the smoking restriction into effect);
•referred a request from Northern Nutrition for signage to be located on town-owned property to the Planning and Development executive committee for its recommendation;
•agreed to a request from Rainy River District Victims Program to proclaim April 26-May 2 as “National Victims of Crime Awareness Week” in the Town of Fort Frances;
•agreed to a request from the Northwestern Region Canadian Cancer Society to proclaim April, 2009 as “Cancer Month” in the Town of Fort Frances;
•referred a financial request from the Rainy River Future Development Corp. for gateway banners to the Administration and Finance executive committee for its recommendation;
•referred a list of requested services from the Business Improvement Association board to the Operations and Facilities executive committee for its recommendation, with input from the Administration and Finance executive committee;
•referred a 2009 budget submission from the BIA to the Administration and Finance executive committee for its recommendation;
•passed a bylaw to formally assume and dedicate all roads on Plan SM-88 as public roads;
•passed a bylaw to approve an agreement with the minister of Energy and Infrastructure and minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs for financing of improvements at the Fort Frances sewage treatment plant; and
•gave public notice of property declared surplus by council (this is property located on the west side of McIrvine Road North at Eighth Street West).