Cortes library closed suddenly after warning issued

The process of removing books from the library began Wednesday and a building inspection was scheduled for this weekend

Vancouver Island Regional Library unexpectedly shut down its Cortes Island branch last Friday after the library building was deemed a potential safety risk to the public.

The Vancouver Island Regional Library board learned at a meeting April 23 that the library space is a converted mezzanine area in the community centre, with a daycare operating underneath. Just four days later, senior staff at the Vancouver Island Regional Library became aware of a hazard alert issued by Worksafe BC related to buildings where there are mezzanines and told of a worker who died in a mezzanine collapse.

Ronna-Rae Leonard, chair of the Vancouver Island Regional Library Board, said taking into account the weight of the books the library floor supports, a decision was made to close the library as quickly as possible.

“People don’t realize the weight of books and we have a duty to protect the public,” Leonard said. “If we’re told there’s a risk, we have to do something about it. Until we’re confident it can bear the load and nobody’s lives are at risk we can’t open the doors.”

The process of removing books from the library began Wednesday and a building inspection was scheduled for this weekend. Leonard said the best case scenario is there is a quick fix to mitigate the weight on the floor and the library can re-open. Worst case scenario is the library has to move to a temporary location. In the meantime, books from the library will be stored on-site on Cortes and residents can also use the library’s Books by Mail service.

Leonard said she has been inundated with e-mails from people on Cortes who feel the library is gone for good.

“That can’t be farther from the truth,” Leonard said. “The fear that we want to discontinue library services on Cortes is untrue.

“We’re in a place where we have to deal with a very serious situation and I’m shocked how people have responded to this, second-guessing that it’s a safety issue.”

Noba Anderson, Strathcona Regional District Director for Cortes Island, said nobody had advance notice the library would be closed and wrote an open letter to the Vancouver Island Regional Library Board slamming its “hasty decision” to shut down the facility.

“For VIRL (Vancouver Island Regional Library) staff to make the decision to close a library branch without any notice to anyone and without alternate plans for provision of library service to the Cortes community is outrageous,” Anderson wrote. “I believe that the immediate removal of materials would be quite provocative at this time.

“There must be a better course of action available and I am more than willing to help find solutions.”

Anderson said the Vancouver Island Regional Library board adopted a new commitment to public process regarding library spaces after an outcry on Quadra Island last fall regarding the decision to relocate that island’s library with little public consultation.

“I would think that there would also be a public process for the closure of a library,” she said.

Meanwhile, regional library staff have been working for two years to open a new library on Cortes.

Rosemary Bonanno, executive director of Vancouver Island Regional Library, said staff discovered in 2010 that the floor of the current building did not meet the specific load of 150 pounds per square foot necessary for library operations.

In 2011, the library’s collection of books was reduced to deal with the issue, which was considered a short-term fix.

Senior staff at Vancouver Island Regional Library have been negotiating with the library property owners, South Cortes Community Association, for months to find a new space for Cortes library branch.

“While VIRL awaits the building inspection report, we are reviewing options in the community for temporary quarters and we continue to negotiate with the South Cortes Community Association for a permanent location for a library on Cortes Island,” said Bonanno in a release.

The regional library will host a public information session to provide updates on future plans for the library at a soon to be announced date, time and location.