Once-busy Cortes Island library remains in limbo

Library is closed due to concerns about the structural integrity of the building and the weight of the books

Cortes Islanders are still in limbo, waiting for word on whether their library threatens their safety.

Vancouver Island Regional Library, which operates the Cortes library branch, held a public information session last Thursday to assure the community it is still committed to library service on the island, despite shutting down the facility May 4 with no advance warning.

“We had a little over three hours with the community and we’ve hopefully given them a sense of assurance that we’re definitely still committed to having a library on Cortes,” said Ronna-Rae Leonard, chair of the Vancouver Island Regional Library Board.

The library was closed due to safety concerns surrounding the building, which is leased by Vancouver Island Regional Library.

The library space is a converted mezzanine area in the community centre, with a daycare below. Leonard said the board is concerned the mezzanine floor may buckle under the weight of the library books, as it does not meet the specific load of 150 pounds per square foot necessary for library operations. Last year, library staff reduced the library’s collection as a short-term solution.

A building inspection was conducted two days after Vancouver Island Regional Library halted its operations.

Results of that inspection were expected to be shared with the public at last week’s community information session, but the regional board has yet to see the structural engineer’s report.

“Without having the report it’s impossible to comment on it,” said Adrian Maas, director of finance for Vancouver Island Regional Library. He said there is no timeline for when the report will come back.

Noba Anderson, the regional director representing Cortes, is concerned the findings in the structural engineer’s report will never be made public.

“When we, as a community and the South Cortes Community Association (which owns the library property), asked whether VIRL would share the structural engineer report when they get it, they said it would go to the board first, then they would decide if it can go to the public. They’re incredibly tight-lipped.”

She would like to see Vancouver Island Regional Library be more transparent.

“What’s really important in all of this is to have a library that’s safe and also responsive to the community,” Anderson said. “VIRL needs to figure out how to be more communicative in new builds and library closures, especially in smaller communities.”

Since 2010, Vancouver Island Regional Library has been in negotiation with the South Cortes Community Association for a temporary, as well as a long-term, location for the Cortes library.

Anderson said the two most viable options appear to be the basement of the South Cortes Community Hall or the Linnaea Farm Learning Centre. There are no available buildings   suitable for a permanent home, so a new build would be required for a long-term solution, Anderson said.

In the meantime, Anderson said the community is missing its library.

“Cortes has the most borrowing per capita in the library region,” she said. “We love our library on Cortes…we need to find a temporary space and we need good communication with VIRL.”