Five years on, same ques­tions

Coun­ties still pon­der­ing what to do about fa­cil­i­ties for li­brary branches

Standard-Freeholder (Cornwall) - - FRONT PAGE - ALAN S. HALE

The SDG county coun­cil is try­ing to de­cide how it will deal with the mount­ing prob­lem of li­brary branches that are out­grow­ing their small mu­nic­i­pally-owned build­ings.

The size of li­brary branches has been a long­stand­ing prob­lem in SDG. It has been over five years since the county’s Li­brary Board told its coun­cil that the li­braries needed more room.

“It is in­con­ceiv­able that the li­brary of the 21st cen­tury can be housed in fa­cil­i­ties that are less than 1,000 square feet in size with out­dated build­ing ser­vices,” read a 2012 fa­cil­ity model re­port. “It is not pos­si­ble to en­gage res­i­dents and meet the needs of cur­rently un­der-served sec­tors of the com­mu­nity with li­braries that are only open 10-15 hours a week and have no ded­i­cated pro­gram or meet­ing ar­eas.”

It has been more than five years since that re­port and de­mand for li­brary fa­cil­i­ties is still in­creas­ing. The small one-room branch in Long Sault, for in­stance, is see­ing the amount of peo­ple com­ing in in­creas­ing rapidly as new sub­di­vi­sions and se­niors hous­ings are built.

Since that re­port, two new li­brary branches have been built, one in Mor­ris­burg and one in Wil­liams­burg, while three were closed in 2016 be­cause they were small, poorly-main­tained and un­der-used.

But ac­cord­ing to the Li­brary Board, none of the other rec­om­men­da­tions from the re­port have been fol­lowed. On Tues­day the is­sue was raised again, with the Li­brary Board ask­ing the county coun­cil for some kind of di­rec­tion on the is­sue.

At the mo­ment, the town­ships pro­vide the build­ings for the li­brary and rent them to the li­brary at a nom­i­nal fee of $2 per square foot. The county pro­vides all of the li­brary ser­vices such as books, staff and pro­gram­ming. Ac­cord­ing to the Li­brary Board, this is an ar­range­ment no one is sat­is­fied with.

“In­creas­ingly, there is frus­tra­tion felt by both sides of this long-es­tab­lished ‘part­ner­ship,’” re­ported the board to the coun­cil on Tues­day. “The lo­cal mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties see that the rate paid for the fa­cil­i­ties does not even be­gin to cover ba­sic util­ity costs, while the li­brary is very much re­stricted in what ser­vices and re­sources it can of­fer, largely by the size and con­di­tion of its fa­cil­i­ties.”

To fix this prob­lem, the li­brary board is once again rec­om­mend­ing that the county looks at adopt­ing a sys­tem sim­i­lar to the “vari­able lease rate model” used by the Mid­dle­sex County Li­brary.

Un­der this model, there would be three dif­fer­ent rents that the li­brary board would pay de­pend­ing on what kind of li­brary fa­cil­ity they wanted to run.

A ba­sic fa­cil­ity, which would meet just the ba­sic li­brary needs of its com­mu­nity, would pay $6.28 per square foot.

An en­hanced fa­cil­ity would need to be large enough to have pro­gram­ming space for ac­tiv­i­ties that would take place dur­ing reg­u­lar li­brary hours. For this, the li­brary board would pay $7.21 per square foot.

A comprehensive fa­cil­ity would cost $9.93 per square foot, but would need to be a min­i­mum of 6,000 square feet, have an in­creased foot­print for li­brary ser­vices, des­ig­nated pro­gram space, be fully ac­ces­si­ble and have space left over for “it­er­ant ser­vices providers.”

The re-emer­gence of the li­brary build­ing is­sue caused a lot of de­bate among the coun­cil­lors on Tues­day with some ar­gu­ing that mov­ing away from the cur­rent model and be­gin­ning con­struc­tion of new build­ings or rent­ing pri­vately-owned ones didn’t make fi­nan­cial sense — at least not with­out lim­i­ta­tions. Oth­ers, how­ever, ar­gued that deal­ing with the is­sue was long over­due.

North Glen­garry coun­cil­lor Jamie Mac­Don­ald was in the former camp and said he did not see the point of adopt­ing the vari­able lease model.

“I don’t get it, ei­ther way, there’s still only one (payer). I don’t see what’s the point of go­ing through this ex­er­cise, it just doesn’t make sense,” said Mac­Don­ald.

North Dun­das coun­cil­lor Eric Dun­can ar­gued that the county has a se­ri­ous prob­lem that needs to be ad­dressed be­cause the pub­lic ex­pects there to be ad­e­quate li­brary ser­vices.

“With all the roofs that need to be re­placed, the money from rent is get­ting tighter, tighter and tighter ev­ery year,” said Dun­can. “When the rent is just $2, and there is a huge gap be­tween that and op­er­at­ing costs, we can look at mod­ern­iz­ing it. We are not in tough times, and if we close one, there will be 600 peo­ple in the coun­cil cham­ber with pe­ti­tions.”

Mac­Don­ald coun­tered with a pro­posal that would see the li­brary be given enough money to pay $8 per square foot, but that each town­ship would be lim­ited to just two branches.

The is­sue will be re­vis­ited when the coun­cil be­gins bud­get de­lib­er­a­tions.

Li­brary clerk Chris­tine De­nis, right, helps De­bra Van­der­wall find a book at the Long Sault branch of the SD&G Pub­lic Li­brary on Tues­day. ALAN S. HALE/STAN­DARD-FREEHOLDER

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