The Thompson-Nicola Regional District wants to begin negotiations to develop a new library in Aberdeen at a preliminary estimated cost of $15 million.
Kamloops Mayor Ken Christian said he has seen public libraries transform from their traditional sense to social hubs that include storytelling, computers and meeting space. He said the size of space is not as important as what happens inside the library.
“I strongly support this,” he said, noting a new library in the Aberdeen/Dufferin area will also have positive neighbourhood spinoffs, such as enhanced retail opportunities.
The TNRD board voted in favour of the recommendation during a Friday (June 18) committee of the whole meeting. Decision on next steps will go to the board at a meeting in July. The board also voted to direct staff to pursue grant funding for the new building and to develop a public consultation and engagement strategy. Opposed to negotiations for development of the library were Kamloops Coun. Kathy Sinclair, Sun Peaks Mayor Al Raine and TNRD Area E (Bonaparte Plateau) director Sally Watson.
The board heard from the regional district’s chief librarian, Judy Moore, that population growth and demand are driving the need for construction of a new library in Kamloops, which would be the third in the city. Two other libraries are located downtown and in North Kamloops.
The proposed third location is across from Aberdeen Mall on Hillside Drive, in a space currently occupied by a parking lot next to Kenna Cartwright Park. The pitch is for a 25,000-square-foot library space, with commercial space and residential units above. The building would be constructed to green standards, with solar panels, big windows, open space and a cafe. It is also proposed to house the TNRD’s mobile library, which is currently stored at the North Kamloops library. The proposal also includes a drive-thru pickup and drop-off area.
Christian did not support inclusion of a drive-thru, which the city is generally discouraging in other developments, including restaurants and coffee shops.
TNRD Area P (Rivers and the Peaks) director Mel Rothenburger said a new library provides opportunity for contemporary elements, such as lending out of musical instruments.
Moore said the library space will be “dynamic.” She said new libraries often include areas like makerspaces, essentially a collaborative work space. She said the library would not seek to compete with Kamloops Makerspace, which is located in the old federal building downtown on Victoria Street West.
“But we want to really look at 21st-century and forward-thinking library services,” Moore said.
Staff advised the board the regional district has $1.7 million in reserve funds set aside and has eyed capital funding opportunities. The project would be eligible for 73 per cent of costs, excluding the property, under the federal Investing in Canada Infrastructure Program.
TNRD legislative services director Deanna Campbell said that while staff are optimistic about grant funding, the TNRD would still have to borrow some funds and a loan authorization bylaw, referendum or counter-petition process would be required.
She said those details would be provided at a later date, should the project move forward. The board also heard a community fundraising campaign could occur.
Coun. Kathy Sinclair told KTW she did not feel comfortable supporting the project at this time, despite her opinion that the library proposal is a positive project and her general support for libraries.
Sinclair cited economic uncertainty amid the COVID-19 pandemic, increased construction prices and resurrection at some point of Kamloops Centre for the Arts for her reasons to oppose the project.
“Trying to fundraise for two capital campaigns would put both in jeopardy,” Sinclair said. “If we’re looking at both of those coming forward in the next five years, I don’t know that a Kamloops citizen would be comfortable supporting both projects, a portion of which would go through taxes. Whether that’s federal or provincial grant funds or property taxes, it’s all tax dollars.”
Sinclair also questioned whether residents in outlying communities would support a library being built in Kamloops.
During the meeting, Watson — who also voted in opposition — said Clinton residents utilize library services in the Cariboo Regional District and questioned why they should pay for the TNRD library system.
“Somebody’s getting really good service and it’s not us,” she said.
TNRD CAO Scott Hildebrand told KTW that if the project were to go to referendum, it would be voted on region-wide.
Moore told the board rural communities in the regional district would benefit from the third location in Kamloops as the increased size of the library collection would be shared with smaller libraries.
While the only timeline provided to the board in the public meeting was a general five-year-window for construction, Hildebrand told KTW the regional district had thought of holding the referendum during the October 2022 civic election, potentially putting the issue of borrowing on the ballot in order to create efficiencies, as elections and referendums are costly and time-consuming.
Christian has also suggested putting the Kamloops Centre for the Arts proposal on the October 2022 civic election balllot after the April 2020 arts centre referendum was cancelled at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. It is possible to have two projects on the ballot, but Hildebrand questioned whether that would be good for voters.
At this stage, it all remains preliminary — with many details yet to be decided and worked out.
“We need to put our heads together and make sure we’re making the right decisions,” Hildebrand said.