The current plan to replace the current library with a new, $14-million facility in the same spot will continue, but not before a spirited discussion around Campbell River city council chambers questioning it.
Newest city councilor Sean Smyth made a motion at the April 12 meeting to have city staff, “immediately cease all work on the library capital project and report back at the next council meeting on the process, timing and costs associated with withdrawing the city’s approval to redevelop the city owned property at 1240 Shoppers Row.”
Smyth says he not only believes there to be a better location for a new library that wouldn’t require demolishing a building owned by city taxpayers, but that there also needs to be better consultation with the public when decisions like this are made.
“I am in favour of the new library,” Smyth says. “I think it’s great. All I want is some public discussion on this. If we’re doing the right thing, fine. But there has to be some discussion.”
Coun. Charlie Cornfield said they had put in too much work to get to the point they’re at for him to support the motion, and worried that even having the discussion about possibly looking at another site at this point was putting the project at risk of ever being completed.
But Coun. Ron Kerr was in support of the motion.
Kerr was the city’s representative on the Vancouver Island Regional Library board for a full eight-year term from 2012 to 2020, “and the reason I went on that board was to get a new library for Campbell River,” he says, adding that he disagrees with the notion that a change now would put the project at risk.
“Saanich, Chemainus, Cortes Island, even Tahsis and Woss,” Kerr says, “every one of those communities that got libraries had alterations and changes constantly. This is an evolving process.”
He also says he’s unhappy with how the process has taken place and agrees with Smyth that there needs to be more transparency and public consultation.
“Up to this point, the whole discussion on this library has been done in-camera by this council,” Kerr says. “This has not been an open and transparent process. When you talk to the man on the street, the woman on the street, they’re generally pretty shocked … I don’t think there’s anyone in town who doesn’t want a new library, but what they’re surprised at is what’s happening, where it’s going and the lack of transparency by this council as to moving it ahead.”
Coun. Kermit Dahl says he, too, wants council to re-examine the project.
“There’s just not a financial way to support this,” Dahl says. “We’re going to spend $800,000 to tear down a $2.7 million asset and turn it into a $100,000 liability. That’s crazy.”
Dahl suggested the city repurpose the current building as an art gallery, find a different location for a new library to be built nearby “and really have a (cultural) precinct. To tear it down just makes no sense to me. I haven’t heard one argument that does make sense for why that has to be the location.”
But Coun. Colleen Evans, Claire Moglove and Mayor Andy Adams all also thought the project should go ahead in its current form and the motion was defeated 4-3.
Then on Wednesday, Vancouver Island Regional Library circulated a release saying, in part, that there would, in fact, be plenty of opportunity for public engagement in the process.
“Vancouver Island Regional Library (VIRL) and the city will host two shared public consultations,” the release says. “The first will gather feedback and ideas on the design and features of the library; the second will present the proposed renderings and provide answers to outstanding questions. As a result of the ongoing pandemic, VIRL and city staff are currently planning how to offer safe and extensive consultations that include connecting with Indigenous community members, the business community, families, newcomers, seniors, and youth.”
The VIRL release also says the organization is excited to move forward with the much-needed project.
“Planning, designing, and ultimately building capital projects of this size and scope are always complex and multifaceted,” says board chair Gaby Wickstrom. “Since 2011, the Board of Trustees has supported the substantial renovations or new builds of 18 branches in communities large and small. There are always challenges to overcome, but VIRL staff have learned from experience and are ready to apply their expertise to this exciting and vital project.”