Library board to hold off fundraising until 2006

The Fort Frances Public Library board has decided not to begin its fundraising efforts for a new library until 2006 in an effort to avoid overlapping with other campaigns here.
Board chair Joyce Cunningham said with the skate park committee and the Fort Frances Museum currently in fundraising drives, they did not want to draw attention away from them.
“We do not want to be doing it at the same time as these other two,” she explained at a public meeting Monday night at the Memorial Sports Centre.
It was held to update residents on the process, to explain where the board would like the new library to be built, and why it thinks it’s better to build new than to renovate the current library on Church Street.
In terms of cost, the latter choice was clear.
According to estimates put together by Community Services manager George Bell, the cost to renovate the old library would be about $4,036,622.
“That is the cost to renovate the library to still be an inefficient library,” board member Arlene Georgeson noted.
This includes the cost of acquiring more land, either to the south or west of the library, and the cost of bringing the building up to code in terms of handicap accessibility.
It also includes the operational costs, which would be considerably higher in a renovated library due to the fact there are two floors, each with a circulation desk.
As such, the staffing requirements are higher.
Meanwhile, the cost of building a new library next to the Memorial Sports Centre at the corner of Reid Avenue and Second Street—the board’s preferred location—would be about $2,852,774.
This cost also includes operational costs, as well as the funds incurred from the sale of the old library, estimated at 60 percent of its assessed value of $348,000.
Both estimates are based on a facility of 16,330 sq. ft. (the current library is just under 7,000 sq. ft.)
Georgeson said the recommended square footage for a library in a community of this size, and with the current amount of usage, is 14,200—more than double the current size.
The board outlined other reasons why the community needs a new library. “The one most important aspect is the accessibility,” Cunningham noted.
Because the children’s library is located in the basement, it is difficult, if not impossible, for people with mobility problems to get down there.
“It breaks our hearts when we see kids that can’t get down,” Cunningham said.
The stairs even are difficult for able-bodied parents carrying children in strollers or car seats. The cost of installing an elevator is prohibitive, and it would have to be serviced annually.
As well, many shelves are too high while the wheelchair ramp at the front of the building is narrow and difficult to maneuver.
“I think you would actually have to be an Olympic athlete to wheel yourself up that ramp,” Cunningham remarked.
Library CEO Margaret Sedgwick said with libraries now carrying videos, DVDs, books on tape and CD, and computer stations, space is at a premium.
“There’s no room for any additional computers or paperback racks,” she noted. “For almost every new book we get, we have to discard.”
Sedgwick joked that library staff have had to lose weight in order to maneuver through the limited office space. There also have been accidents in the often full parking lot the library shares with the Fort Frances Clinic.
Ruth Caldwell, a board member and retired children’s librarian, said she was very attached to the current library, but recognized it would be more economical to build a new one.
“If I can be convinced we need a new library, I think anybody can be,” she said.
Board member Jean Boileau listed other properties they had considered for the new library, including the corner of Front Street and Mosher Avenue, Sixth Street School, and Alexander MacKenzie School (which the Rainy River District School Board agreed to sell to Crozier Warehouse last night).
The board also approached the owners of the old Fort Frances High School on First Street East, she noted.
“The board approached the private developers asking for a proposal to demolish the buildings and sell the undeveloped land for a new library,” Boileau said.
“We didn’t hear from them. They didn’t seem to be interested,” she added, though noting that site would have posed problems in terms of parking space anyway.
The site at the corner of Reid Avenue and Second Street East was chosen for several reasons: it is municipally-owned, it has lower preparation costs, and there is sufficient vacant land for a new library and parking spaces.
As well, it is close to the Memorial Sports Centre, “allowing quality of life services to be grouped together,” Boileau said.
“It’s a residential area which has a high density. It is close to a beautiful park and a playground,” she noted. “We think this is a very good site for our new library.”
The board presented a preliminary drawing of where the library could sit. The new parking spaces—more than 100 in all—would be located where the tennis courts are.
Bell noted the town is looking into building new tennis courts at the St. Francis Sportsfield in the west end of town.
“The tennis courts need to be replaced. They’ve needed to be replaced for a long time,” he said.
Cunningham said it even would be possible to connect the library to the Memorial Sports Centre—minimizing the need for walking outside between the buildings during the cold winter months.
Having the library and sports centre connected even could encourage people who don’t normally go to the library to drop by.
Sedgwick noted some libraries in the province are located inside their community sports centres.
Funding for large projects like this one often are divided equally between federal, provincial, and municipal governments, Cunningham noted.
“The one-third municipal includes anything that might be done through taxation as well as fundraising,” she said.
While it won’t begin its fundraising initiatives until next year, the library board does plan to begin an education campaign in the fall to inform the public of its plans.
It also will research any government funding options.
“If we want to be in a position to access any provincial or federal funds, we have to show we have done our homework,” Cunningham stressed.
“There are many libraries across the province that are waiting for funding like we are,” Sedgwick noted.
Cunningham said it was too early to set a date for completion, but added she personally would like to walk into the new library in 2010.
“It’s not going to happen overnight. What we need to know is that we’ve got the community behind us,” Georgeson said.
The library board will go before town council this coming Monday night (June 27) to ask that it approve the site selection in principle.