Library funding hailed as boon for community

FORT FRANCES—The $1.6 million pledged to the new local library by the Ontario Ministry of Culture will prove a benefit to the entire community, the Fort Frances Public Library board believes.
“We’re so happy that the minister of culture had definitely realized the importance of libraries in a community, and the impetus that a library can give to the growth of the community and how it can stimulate economic growth and social growth,” said board chair Joyce Cunningham.
“It’s a reinforcement of what we have believed for so long,” she added. “This gives us much more enthusiasm to get going and make this a reality.”
Cunningham and head librarian Margaret Sedgwick were at an Ontario Library Association conference in Toronto last week when they heard the news of the funding.
“There were ministry people there who kept saying to us, ‘You’re going to be getting a phone call with some very good news,’” Cunningham said.
The news finally was released on Friday.
“We were very, very excited to hear about it,” Cunningham remarked.
“We’re so proud and so thrilled,” echoed Sedgwick. “It’s huge news.”
The funding was awarded “for reasons of economic stimulus,” she explained.
“A great library can attract new doctors, can attract professionals,” said Sedgwick. “I think that’s what we mean by economic stimulus. It can provide something special for the town.
“The Ministry of Culture, in recent years, hasn’t provided much funding for culture in the north,” she noted. “They knew we were planning a new library, that plans were underway.”
The ministry awarded a total of $2.3 million in capital grants to five libraries in Ontario, three of which are in the north.
While Fort Frances got the lion’s share of the funding, the remaining $700,000 went to libraries in Sault Ste. Marie, Nipigon, Mitchell, and Caistorville.
These towns all had “ready-to-go infrastructure projects,” Culture minister Caroline Di Cocco said in a news release.
“We are pleased to help fund the new library in Fort Frances,” she added. “Projects like this have both cultural and economic benefits for many communities.”
Cunningham said the board’s preliminary work may be the reason they received the greatest share of the funding.
“We have gone through all the steps that one must go through before you actually get to the building stage,” she noted.
“We’ve done our feasibility study, we’ve had public meetings, we’ve met with town council many, many times, we’ve done a costing analysis, we have the site.
“It’s ready—we don’t have to tear down buildings or buy buildings.
“We’re further along than any other community. I think that’s why we were chosen,” Cunningham added.
The ministry’s funding was based on the library board’s feasibility study of 2003, where the estimated cost came in at $3.25 million. The ministry knew that and gave half of the projected bill.
“To us it was overwhelming that they would ever consider giving us half,” Cunningham said.
Of course, costs have gone up since then and the board now is looking at a total closer to $3.8 million for the final project, though it is planning to get the original architect to give them a more accurate estimate.
The plans are based on a 77,000 square foot library that will be fully accessible. The proposed site is the property adjacent to the Memorial Sports Centre (the old arena ball diamond).
“We’re convinced we have the ideal site,” Cunningham said. “People love to go to all these quality of life places and just move from one to the other.
“It builds enthusiasm and interest in the community,” she added.
One of the next steps for the board will be to put out a request of proposal to choose an architect. From there, the board will have to undergo lengthy discussions with the architect before any building starts.
“That’s very, very important so you get the kind of building that suits the needs of the community,” Cunningham explained.
Both Cunningham and Sedgwick have visited more than 40 new or renovated libraries across the province in the last several years.
“We’re stealing all their fantastic ideas,” Cunningham laughed.
Because libraries are about sharing, the librarians they’ve met have been more than happy to talk about the things they did right—and the pitfalls to avoid in the process of building a new library.
“We’ve learned a great deal,” she said. “When you’re designing and building a library, you’re thinking of at least 50 years.”
The board will begin its fundraising campaign in early March. In addition to the $1.6 million from the province, the board already has raised $40,000 in donations, including $25,000 from Cunningham herself.
The remainder will come from donations and other grants.
The board originally had hoped to move into the new building in 2010. But with the large capital grant from the province, it’s possible they could start construction in 2008 and move in by 2009.
“Things take time. I want everything done very carefully,” Cunningham said.
“The library is getting closer and closer to becoming a reality,” she added. “It’s very exciting.”
In other news, the Fort Frances Public Library was short-listed for the province’s Angus Mowat Award for Excellence, which recognizes excellence in public library service.
“We didn’t win that one, but we were really proud to be short-listed,” Sedgwick said.