MacKenzie school pitched as site for new library

Final plans for a proposed new public library here have recommended a new one-storey facility to be built on the site of Alexander MacKenzie School, which is slated for closure this fall.
John Stephenson, an architect with Kuch, Stephenson, Gibson, and Malo of Thunder Bay, presented town council with the final plans at Monday night’s meeting.
There is no doubt the current library on Church Street barely has enough room to support all the materials and programing it currently has (let alone expanding those areas), Stephenson said.
It also needs to be made handicap-accessible for both children and adults.
Stephenson reminded council that for the past two years, his firm and the local library board have been discussing either expanding and renovating the current library or building a new one altogether.
While it is possible to expand the current building by purchasing the land next to the Fort Frances Courthouse owned by the Ontario Realty Corp., it would be favourable to build a new one-storey facility elsewhere, said Stephenson.
While other sites, such as Front Street and the old high school, previously were discussed, Alexander MacKenzie was picked as the prime location.
Stephenson reasoned that not only is it land the Rainy River District School Board will be looking to get rid of, but it is spacious—with lots of room for parking and a garden, which can be used for children’s activities and contemplative reading.
It also is fairly central, highly-visible, and located across from the Legion Park.
The drawbacks are the existing building has to be demolished and the west-end location is not perceived by some as being “downtown,” said Stephenson, also adding it’s near a very busy street (King’s Highway)—a possible concern for pedestrian access and safety.
The plans for the new building—which would be built in the “Carnegie” style as opposed to modern—include a used bookstore and coffee counter, a teen lounge, and a community room.
It also includes a large circular area containing the circulation desk, computers for searching the catalogues and for Internet research, and reference materials.
The outside wall of the circular room will have many windows for natural light, with work and study tables set up in front of them, as well as a fireplace facing a lounge and reading area.
The centre of the circle will house the newspapers and periodicals.
Renovating and expanding the current library also is a viable, if less favoured option. Its strengths include its central location and sense of history.
However, even an expanded library would see parking problems, and the two-storey nature of the building means another staff member would have to be hired for it to be properly staffed.
On the other hand, a new library would see one less staff member needed due to its efficient design.
The two-storey option also includes the used bookstore and coffee counter, teen lounge, and community room, but also would have stairs and an elevator.
Both designs are wheelchair accessible, and include two separate study rooms—one for quiet study and the other for group study. And both also feature a large children’s library complete with a story circle.
In both plans, the used bookstore, coffee counter, and community room will be accessible from the exterior—meaning they can be used even when the library is closed.
Although they are only rough numbers being used for the sake of comparison, Stephenson noted the cost for a new library would be $3.4 million while the cost to renovate and expand the existing one would be about $3 million.
The latter costs so much because of the complexities of “knitting” a pair of existing aged structures (roughly 100 and 40 years old, respectively), which will have to undergo a lot of upgrades with an new section, noted Stephenson.
He also said operating a renovated and expanded library actually would have an operating budget $28,000 higher than it currently has while the same budget for a new building would be $15,000 less than the current one.
Stephenson noted a timeline of four-five years has been set for fundraising for the new library. The town would be expected to provide one-third of the cost, with the other two-thirds being paid by the provincial and federal governments.
Of that local share, the “Friends of the Library” would try to raise $500,000, Stephenson added.
Coun. Rick Wiedenhoeft asked Stephenson if there had been talks with the Rainy River District School Board regarding purchasing the property and demolishing the school, to which the architect replied “no.”
The report was accepted by council and referred to the Community Services executive committee for a recommendation.
Coun. Tannis Drysdale, who also sits on the public library board, noted that while the town may not be in a financial position to jump into any new projects right now, the plans will be carefully considered.
“They recommended it [fundraising] be implemented over four to five years. It’s not inconceivable we could start planning for it now,” she noted.
“It’s very good to start thinking about it today. Maybe the town can’t afford to set aside money this year, but next year, who knows?” she added.
“Personally, I’m one of those people who wouldn’t want to see it [the library] go. It’s such an important building,” Coun. Drysdale remarked. “But our current library doesn’t meet the accessibility need of some of the physically challenged people in our community.
“And ultimately, we have a responsibility to provide that for the community.”
Chief librarian Margaret Sedgwick noted yesterday that the board is eagerly awaiting word from the Community Services executive committee so it can continue with the process, which likely would include looking into acquiring property.
(Fort Frances Times)