Hold your ground and fight, library architect tells board
By Penny Coles
General Brock didn't retreat in the face of the enemy, library architect Philip Carter told library board members, and neither should they flee their home of 150 years.
But Brock wasn't fighting tourists, countered Niagara-on-the-Lake Public Library board chairman Mollie Enns.
And therein rests the stalemate between those who want a new library in a central location and those who want it to stay part of the downtown core.
Carter was at the home of Rene Huyge, member of the Coalition for Old Town Advocacy, to present several options to library board members that would allow them to have a modern library in the historic Court House, a fitting home for the first public library Canada, he said.
He emphasized the importance of the downtown location, and advised board members to stand their ground rather than turn the space over to tourists, a "fickle" lot who will desert the town once its disneyfication is complete. "Giving up the downtown to strangers would be a mistake," he warned.
After establishing his credentials, which he matter-of-factly said make him the most knowledgeable library architect in Canada and an expert in restoring heritage buildings, he presented slides of several new libraries and restorations he has designed, all offering everything a community library could ask for and much more. He then presented some options for using the present Court House library space with a sympathetic addition behind the building, providing about 12,600 square feet - more than the 9,000 square feet the library board is asking for. To build less than 12,000, he said, would be a mistake.
Renovating existing space and adding a new wing with basement, ground floor and second storey, all wheelchair accessible, would still cost less than a new building -he roughly estimated $1.2 million for the renovation and addition, and $1.5 million for the same amount of space in a completely new building. The Court House addition, he said, would sacrifice only eight parking spaces of the existing parking lot.
Also an urban planner, Carter says the library belongs downtown. But as someone who loves libraries, he added, the ambience that could be created with a new library in the Court House would build on its historic legacy. "A new building by the most clever architect could never achieve that distinction, that ambience."
Refusing to comment on the designs until other board members have seen them, Mollie Enns, library board member Dave Eke and head librarian Gerda Molson all voiced concerns about parking difficulties driving away library patrons. No solution presented so far seems workable, they agreed, and Molson, who admits to avoiding Queen Street like the plague, says she envisions the town spending more than $1-million on a library nobody will use, because of traffic and parking problems.
The need for extra staff in a multi-level library would also incur continuing costs to the town, Enns pointed out, and Eke returned several times to the parking issue.
Parking is a management problem for the town to deal with, Carter said. Although NOTL may have a large number of tourists, it is not unique in that. "I've travelled in Venice, in many small towns in Italy and in France, and they have beautiful parking systems."
Coalition member Mary Jane Grant believes the parking problem can be overcome if the will is there. "In fact the library sits in a sea of parking. What we lack is a council with the political will to give up the revenue from the parking metres."
Old Town merchants have agreed some parking should be set aside for residents, she said, and plan to present a proposal to council on the issue.
Carter's suggestions will be presented to the town council, Huyge said, along with the concerns of the library board - the need for parking solutions, increased operating costs, and building an addition to a heritage building.
Council has deferred the library decision until June 22 while the town staff look at future uses of the Court House, but the majority of aldermen have stated the library will move to a new location, without stating where.
Angry aldermen argue over library decision. Plan to hire consultant scrapped.
By Sarah Murrell
An ongoing debate over a two-month old vote on the library issue continued to stir up emotions Monday, with aldermen on their feet trying to silence each other and a lengthy staff report going out the window as council decided against hiring a consultant to study impacts of the library move.
Two separate matters, one questioning minutes of the March 22 council meeting and the other a report on hiring a consultant to conduct studies and find consensus on the moving of the library, combined to test the patience of aldermen on both sides of the issue, ending with four aldermen on their feet arguing procedure while the Lord Mayor pounded his gavel and called for a five-minute recess.
While the discrepancy over the minutes seemed inconsequential to some, it was important enough for Judy Ry lands to press for a resolution, only to be shot down in flames by Dennis Dick and Jamie Slingerland, who silenced her midstream.
Rylands, NOTL Conservancy president Laura Dodson and others fighting to keep the library in the Court House, maintain a motion aldermen voted for March 22 was not to move the library, but to defer the decision while further studies were carried out. Dodson believes that if aldermen have made an irreversible decision that the library is moving when it has not been voted on, they could be considered biased. The Municipal Act, she says, cites that as justification for being removed from office.
The report on hiring a consultant was a result of that deferral, and the question of what aldermen voted on is significant, Dodson and others assert - was it to move the library, and hire a consultant to look at the impact of that decision, or was it looking for an answer as to whether or not the library should move?
Rylands, who said she understands the intent of the majority of aldermen at that meeting - to move the library - said the minutes should be corrected to reflect what really happened.
She argues that a vote to relocate the library and community centre never happened, that it was strictly a vote to relocate soccer from Rye Heritage Park and defer the library and community centre decision. The issues have been intertwined since the town started looking at relocating services to a town-owned property on Regional Road 55.
Town clerk Bob Howse told aldermen that the tape of the meeting, which Rylands says backs up her argument, doesn't matter. What is written in the minutes, which were adopted by aldermen at a subsequent meeting, is the legal document to follow. What is written matters little if it is the intent of aldermen to move the library, he added.
Kirkby, whose handwritten motion accepted by the majority reads "the decision on the relocation of the library and community centre be postponed...", said it has always been clear her motion was to defer the decision on where the library is moving to, and the intent has always been to move the library and community centre.
"You can't fight the original intent," she said.
After aldermen calmed down and refocused on the original issue, the hiring of a consultant - which aldermen met specifically to discuss last week as a subcommittee they formed themselves, to iron out terms of reference - they instead approved a motion made by Alderman Dave Lepp that staff complete the work themselves on alternative uses for the Court House, ignoring the rest of the report which stated the goals of the town were to find consensus among the residents.
After the meeting Rylands, who took issue with being silenced, checked with Robert's Rules of Order and found that "after the floor has been assigned to a member he cannot be interrupted by calls for the question" (the point used by Dick to silence her). She has formally objected to the ruling of the meeting, indicating she had the right to finish speaking.
Town staff has until June 22 to complete their studies before the library question comes back to council.