Consensus missing but compromise offered. Strict rules of conduct omitted opportunity for dialogue
Crowd of 400 heard different views but many shared optimism for co-operation and compromise
BY PENNY COLES
At a tightly controlled meeting of about 400 people, the silent majority was given an opportunity to speak.
For more than three hours residents concerned about the fate of the Niagara-on-the-Lake Public Library and other downtown services spoke eloquently and passionately on both sides of the issue. Although there was no clear consensus, there were some common threads - many individuals, as well as TEMCO representative Ken Douglas and Chamber of Commerce board president Janice Thompson, asked for a delay in making a decision to allow time for a task force or committee to search for compromise.
Countering that was a dismal picture painted of inadequate working conditions for library staff, who have to carry books up and down stairs and put up with fumes from idling trucks in the liquor store parking lot, lack of space for children's programs, inaccessibility for handicapped, and a plea from the library board to move forward.
"Surely the time for talking has passed and it is time to ensure that this community has a library of which it can be proud," said library spokesman Dave Eke.
Questions were raised about turning the library space into gift shops, which would require rezoning, and the appropriateness of using the Court House, which was restored with donations from various government grants and individuals supporting a public building, for other purposes.
The Court House "is going nowhere," Eke noted, suggesting community energies be directed to finding compatible uses so the building remains part of the community. "We feel that the needs for the library should not be sacrificed for the status quo."
An addition to the building would be necessary if the current location is expanded, and would be feasible but costly, he added, and operating the library on several floors would mean an ongoing increase in costs of about 40 per cent.
Although the library board has pointed out the historical use of the Court House as a market, that was for the benefit of residents, not tourists, Shaw artistic director Christopher Newton noted.
The pleas of three parents from rural areas for an accessible library all could enjoy were not ignored. Many Old Town speakers agreed the rest of the municipality should have a library - just not by taking the one from the Court House. There were several offers of assistance for building a new facility - wherever the rest of the municipality wants it located - from those fighting to save their own. Several spoke of the consequences of pitting one community against another, and suggested that with cooperation and compromise, all could benefit.
Strict rules had some complaining the forum was not a true public meeting, with aldermen scattered throughout the Community Centre audience and no opportunity for questioning. Alderman Jamie Slingerland, chairing the meeting, silenced speakers at any hint of criticism directed toward town staff or elected officials, forcing two speakers to sit down for aiming barbs at an alderman and the chief administrative officer.
Dr. Richard Merritt of the Friends of Fort George asked that the Court House, of national historic significance, be maintained for public rather than private use. Speaking as a concerned Queenston resident, he compared the municipality to a family of several children. "As parents we love and care for each of our children equally, but if we have one child who has special needs, mentally or physically challenged or even a child prodigy, then that child requires special attention and nurturing."
The first capital of Upper Canada is like a special needs child, under tremendous pressures because of its popularity as a tourist destination, and in its struggle to survive as a community "is asking you, its elected officers, to please maintain these library and recreational facilities in the Old Town." Considering it provides far more than its fair share of tax revenue, "is this too much to ask? Please keep an open mind," Merritt said.
Shaw artistic director Christopher Newton closed the meeting, as he did last week's deputations at the town hall, drawing many to their feet with applause at his endorsement for a waiting period with studies commissioned to examine the impact on the Old Town businesses and residents if services are moved from the core. He agreed, as did every speaker, that the current library is not ideal, but repeated the often-heard plea not to surrender the Old Town to the tourists.
"This is still a living town, but only just. Please reconsider this rash adventure in public spending and develop a consensus," he said.
Following the meeting Alderman Dennis Dick, one of five to vote for moving the library and community centre, said he is not against further discussion - he sees no need to rush to move ahead with the Regional Road 55 property decisions. He still believes the town should have a first-class library. He is open to compromise, including the possibility of two branches, he added, "but can we afford it? I don't know."
Alderman Austin Kirkby, who made the motion to move the library and community centre, says she still believes it is the right move, calling both facilities "woefully inadequate." Although she left a location open until a possible partnership with the school board can be discussed, she thought the Regional Road 55 site, which is less than two kilometres away from Queen Street, "would bring people back to the Old Town." She believes people don't understand her intentions in making the motion, and says she will have an opportunity to clarify it in the future. "I'm spending about six hours -a day on the phone trying to explain it to people."
The alderman said she finds it difficult to understand why the Chamber of Commerce, TEMCO (the tourism management advisory committee) and the Old Town Business Association are against the move. If they are worried about the future of the Court House, she suggested they should consider renting office space and sharing the cost of maintaining the building. If it's drawing residents to the Old Town that concerns them, she noted, a library survey shows 65 per cent of those who visit the facility are making a special trip, not combining it with other errands. "Most of the people who use the library are not shopping on Queen Street. They never get to Queen Street," she said.
And from Alderman Jamie Slingerland, who cast the tie-breaking vote to move the library at the corporate service committee meeting: "I would have to say at this point I'm still open to new information, but I haven't had any reason to change my position."
He said he is not in favour of deferring or delaying a decision past Monday night. "There's been a lot of discussion, and it's hard for me to imagine there is going to be any significant new information."
The motion is expected to be on the agenda for council to vote on Monday night.
LIBRARY BOARD DEPUTATION
NIAGARA-ON-THE-LAKE COUNCIL MEETING
MARCH 8, 1999
We would like to take this opportunity to respond directly to some of the comments made in previous deputations, in the letters that have been received, and to some of the concerns that aldermen themselves have expressed in regard to the relocation of the library.
THE ROLE OF THE LIBRARY
Today the contemporary public library is one of the most important services in a community. It provides cultural, recreational, informational and educational services to all members of the community. It provides a wide range of services including:
1) lending of books, video, audio recordings and other materials
2) reference collections and information services that meet individual and corporate needs
3) online access to electronic databases, the Internet and to information in CD—ROM format
4) collections of newspapers and periodicals for recreation and information
5) local history collections and special collections in areas of local interest
6) special programs including story hours and other programs for children and young people
7) community information
8) interlibrary loan service, helping users locate and borrow materials from libraries across Ontario and Canada
9) home delivery service for shut-ins
10) special materials for people who cannot use print material
11) meeting rooms for local community groups
Since the advent of the technological revolution the future of the public library has never been brighter. Just as public libraries were founded to guarantee a literate society by providing universal access to books and other reading material regardless of the economic status of the individual, so today public libraries guarantee universal access to the information highway and the equipment necessary to access it. The Federal Government has recognized that access to the information highway for all the citizens of Canada can only be guaranteed by utilizing the resources of local public libraries and the provision of access has become a stated priority of the Federal Government with an investment of millions of dollars.
Most people have acknowledged in their remarks and presentations that the library, because of a serious space problem, is having difficulty delivering both new and old services and the suggestion has been made that the present library be expanded at the present site to overcome these difficulties.
THE PRESENT SITE
The Library Board considered a wide array of information before rejecting the option of expanding the library at the present site. This included the Chamberlain Architect Services Ltd. Space Study and Site Evaluation Study and the 1992 Patron Survey results which were interpreted by two professional library consultants. The option was rejected for the following reasons:
1) the cost of operating the library on two or three separate floors would have the immediate effect of increasing staff costs by 40%. These are not one time costs, but would continue on an annual basis and over the course of a 20 year period would amount to the cost of a new facility operating on one level.
2) the security and safety of the collection and the people using the facility can be assured when all activity takes place in one distinct area - this would not be the case if the collection and equipment were distributed over several floors. The building would continue to be used for community functions and by the Shaw Festival Theatre and this use would mean a transient population throughout the building on many occasions, making security for staff, users and the collection a major concern. A multitude of access points into the building does nothing to alleviate this concern.
3) use of an elevator for handicapped access between floors adds to security concerns -libraries with elevators need to ensure that those elevators are not abused or vandalized and as a consequence normally have security staff that deal with those concerns thus incurring additional staff costs.
4) to achieve the required space for the library two floors are not adequate, with consequences not only for Parks Canada, but also for the Shaw Festival Theatre.
Another concern which has been raised is the possibility that once the library has vacated the space, the town would lease the vacated space to commercial concerns. It has been suggested that the heritage of the building would be sacrificed if this was to occur. It should be pointed out that if we want to be historically correct in the use of the building, the large library stack area at the rear of the library was originally built and used for commercial purposes. The area was known as the Market Building and the position of the pillars in that space marked the position of vendor stalls. Hence the continuing use of the names Market Street, and Market Square. Over its long history the building has housed the town offices, the fire department, a bank, the post office and even a suspender factory. Commercial use of the vacated space will actually restore, not destroy the heritage of the building.
RELOCATION OF THE LIBRARY
It has also been suggested that by relocating the library, the heart and soul of the downtown core will be gutted. We would all be up in arms if in fact it was being suggested that the Court House Building be gutted. The building is going nowhere - residents and visitors will continue to admire the building for its architectural appeal and the prominence it brings to our main street. We assume it will continue to be used for community functions, in fact such use might even increase. The building has never been known as the Library Building, the library has merely been one of several tenants in the building over a period of many years, moving around to whatever space was available in the building to house it. The fact of the matter is that by remaining in the Court House Building all these years, it has become increasingly inaccessible to the majority of residents who wish to use it. And it has become increasingly difficult to accommodate the services of a modern library as detailed previously. We do the residents of the many communities which comprise the municipality of Niagara-on-the-Lake no service by staying in the building. Most visitors who find their way into the library have only one information request WHERE ARE THE WASHROOMS?
To suggest that by relocating the library we are depriving the residents of an essential service is to ignore totally the overwhelming majority of Niagara-on-the-Lake residents who do not live in the area bounded by Front and Mary Street in the Old Town. In fact, to not relocate the library sends a message to all those who must drive to the library (only to find that they cannot park their car) that they count for nothing when it comes to the provision of equal access to a vital service even though they pay equal tax dollars for that service.
Report CAO-99-04 clearly outlines how the building of a new library facility can be financed at little or no cost to the taxpayer. No such scheme exists to cover the cost of an expansion at the present location. Where will the money come from to cover that cost and the ongoing, annual expense of increased rent and additional staff?
It was suggested that the addition of Niagara College to our community in some way diminishes the role of the public library in our community. It should be pointed out that the collection at the college is curriculum oriented and not representative of a general collection having wide appeal to varied reading tastes. The computer resources available at the college library are there for the use of fee paying students and if the college is typical of most academic institutions you would be hard pressed to find a computer not being accessed at any given time by a student. We do not believe that there is any free lunch waiting at the college!
RECOMMENDATION OF THE BOARD
On January 4 of this year, during our presentation to you requesting your official support for the development of a new library facility, we outlined the role of the Library Board as defined in Provincial Legislation. The facility is no longer adequate to meet the needs of the community and outlined those needs as follows:
1) a facility that is barrier free, available to all residents regardless of any physical disability or limitation
2) a facility that is large enough to house our resources, carry out our programs and provide the best possible service to our public
3) a facility with adequate and available parking, accessible year round to residents of our community no matter where they reside in the municipality
4) a facility that is adequate to the needs of our employees as per modern labour standards.
If you do not vote tonight to relocate the library, how do you see those community needs being resolved?
We have stated in previous submissions that we recommend that a new library be part of a multi— use facility, one that will offer us the opportunity of continuing to sponsor special programs within the Old Town. The Summer Adventure Program for children will for the first time this year not be offered at an Old Town location. There is simply no suitable location available to us in the Old Town during the summer months to hold the program.
If a decision is made to relocate the library to the Highway 55 property as part of a multi-use community facility, the library would remain within the boundaries of the Old Town, enabling most residents of Old Town to continue to walk or cycle to it but most importantly providing easy access and parking for all Niagara-on-the-Lake residents who live outside the Old Town.
The Library Board has been actively working toward the goal of improved library facilities for a period of ten years. A library has existed in the town for most of the last 199 years and the library is recognized as being the first and oldest public library founded in Upper Canada. The Court House Building has been one of approximately a dozen homes for the library over the last many years, but it has never in its long history had a home of its own. Surely the time for talking has passed and it is time to ensure that this community has a library of which it can be proud.