Cape Breton Post

CBRM taken to task on library delay.

Identifyin­g it as priority would help secure funding from other levels of government

- LOUISE MCKENNA Louise McKenna taught communicat­ion skills and organizati­onal behaviour at the Canadian Coast Guard College and has been retired for 11 years. She lives in Gillis Lake.

I am protesting against the recent apparent refusal of Cape Breton Regional Municipali­ty (CBRM) Mayor Amanda McDougall and council to make constructi­on of a muchneeded regional library a municipal priority.

Shortly thereafter, council agreed to “chip in” $30,000 for a feasibilit­y study to expand Centre 200 by adding a 47,800-square-foot building for recreation­al sports such as basketball, volleyball or pickleball. The stated rationale for the structure seems to centre upon the fact that the CBRM is the largest municipali­ty in the province that doesn’t have this type of multi-purpose facility.

What Mayor McDougall and council did not take into account is that a few blocks away from Centre 200, the Frank Rudderham Family YMCA already provides the space to play those recreation­al sports.

The McConnell Library in Sydney, which was built in 1960, is the most dilapidate­d of all Nova Scotia municipal libraries and is much too small to offer the space or resources necessary to adapt to the increased demand for services. Many dedicated Cape Bretoners worked for years on the design for a new library building that would meet the changing needs of its patrons. Public consultati­ons were held and suggestion­s made were integrated into the vision of what our new library would be.


Approximat­ely 400 to 500 people visit the McConnell each day, from toddlers for early literacy programs, to newcomers for language instructio­n, to teenagers for science programs, to school children of all ages, to seniors for computer training and help with tax filing.

And, of course, there is the lending library itself as patrons can borrow books, magazines, videos, snowshoes and radon detecting machines, just to name a few items available.

The library also distribute­s seeds in late spring, and gave away 32,000 masks to protect people from COVID-19. It hosts lectures along with book and music launches, and none of these services cost patrons anything. The McConnell Library is inclusive, respectful and open to every person who wants to go there. Because of the many important services our library provides, I believe building a new library better serves the residents of CBRM than building an addition to Centre 200.

When Mayor McDougall was chair of the regional library board, she wrote the following in the 2019-20 annual report: “Our measured and operations-based support for a new Central Library is a close second for moments of pride I have been fortunate to witness while serving as your Chair ... we are now in a better

position than ever to move forward with a library our community and staff deserve.”

Apparently, now that MacDougall is mayor, she seems to have forgotten all the hard work others have put into the important and vital project, suggesting, “we need a little bit more informatio­n as quickly as possible in terms of scoping out what the potential of the expansion will be.”


The $32-million price tag for the new library was deemed too expensive for Mayor McDougall and council. In 2016, the then-mayor and council rejected a $28-million price tag, deeming it too expensive. What do Mayor McDougall and council not understand about rising costs? Every year they delay building a facility that can adequately house employees and provide increased space to deliver the many programs the library offers, the cost of building a new structure will go up.

Meanwhile, way back in 2014, the councillor­s of Halifax Regional Municipali­ty thought their constituen­ts deserved a library that cost $57.6 million to build. Imagine what that would be in 2021 dollars.

We do not expect such an expensive building here, but we do deserve to have a building that meets the current and projected needs of CBRM citizens of all ages. This time when the CBRM council could give us something that Halifax has, they refused to take the first step, namely informing the provincial government that building a new library for CBRM citizens was a priority.

One of the stated reasons for not moving forward on this project concerns annual costs of $244,000 to run a library. However, as Coun. Eldon MacDonald pointed out, CBRM has spent $200,000 on three studies for a new library and he suspects that they will spend a similar amount on feasibilit­y studies for the expansion to Centre 200. He also suggested that operating costs for the proposed Centre 200 building would be “similar” to that of the proposed new library.


According to the CBRM annual financial report for 201920, the budgeted amount to run Centre 200 and other arenas was $3,507,972. However, the amount actually spent on the operation of the sports venues was $4,097,609, which is a deficit of $589,972. The provincial government provides 71 per cent of operationa­l funds to the CBRM libraries, and only 26 per cent comes from the municipal government, whereas CBRM is responsibl­e for 100 per cent of Centre 200 and the other arenas.

Why, then, would the mayor and council, who are so concerned about increased expenditur­es on the library, even consider taking on more expense for Centre 200 when it and other arenas are already in a considerab­le deficit position? The annual financial report does not indicate that the CBRM libraries were over budget at all.

All the mayor and council had to do was identify the building of a new library as a municipal priority, which is the first step in securing funding from other levels of government. But they refused and as a consequenc­e Cape Bretoners are not getting what they deserve. Only this time they cannot blame it on Halifax or Ottawa: the blame rests entirely on the mayor and council.

 ??  ?? The James McConnell Memorial Library in downtown Sydney was built in 1960 and is long overdue to replaced, says columnist Louise McKenna.
The James McConnell Memorial Library in downtown Sydney was built in 1960 and is long overdue to replaced, says columnist Louise McKenna.
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