I'm attending my fourth Vancouver Island Regional Library board meeting this year on Saturday in Nanaimo, and I'll be pleased as the District's current representative (following in the footsteps of Kerrie Reay and Ron Dumont) to report that we are indeed close to the wire after much spirited to-and-fro between reps from our respective organizations ~ all of us with a shared desire for the best possible public facility that $6 million can purchase in today's construction market.
No champagne corks need be popped, as the Mirror suggests, as those already went off in March, 2017 when Councillor Reay announced that an agreement for the northwest quadrant of Lot A had been completed and a new library on that site was in our future. Let's save the next celebration for opening day.
As I told the News Mirror last week, it's been a long and winding road to this point. Back to that pregnancy metaphor, the first trimester led us from the gleam-in-the-eye of initial meetings in 2008 to the March, 2017 agreement that Lot A was the right, perhaps even perfect, town-centre home for the library.
The second trimester has seen blueprints developed and the exactingly fine details of the lease and permits completed.
The home stretch will be the actual labour of construction and then the delivery of a sweet, bouncing, bibliophilic, 11,076 square foot temple of takeaway content and learning ~ "a go-to hub of community," as VIRL likes to term 21st century libraries, complete with increased staffing and extended operating hours, green features like radiant floor heating and cooling systems, lo-flow toilets and passive solar design ... plus such user perks as an expanded array of computer terminals, free WiFi, a makerspace, a boardroom and meeting area (with kitchenette) available to community groups, and a variety of welcoming nooks with comfy chairs in which to read the daily papers and relax in a peaceful oasis. For life-long library aficionados like me: Bliss.
Patience and process have been the keywords this year, necessarily so when staff from two professional organizations are involved in negotiating fine details of a project funded through BC's triple-A rated Municipal Finance Authority. As you'll see in the Nov. 25 staff report prepared by Manager of Planning Ivy Campbell and her team, much care and attention has been dedicated to all manner of essentials: the access road with sidewalk; pedestrian trail connections; stormwater management; landscaping on the grounds and in the parking lot; low-impact but effective 'dark sky' exterior lighting; streetscape appearance; the application of CPTED (Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design) principles; west-coast design features (as dictated by our Town Centre Design Guidelines); bike parking spaces (24) and EV charging stations (4); and contingencies for solar panels should future budgets allow.
Should all go well on Monday night (see the detailed design drawings in the agenda package here) and with the District now undertaking due diligence on Lot A with geotechnical, archeological, environmental and civil assessments of the property, VIRL will soon be in position to put out its construction tender and began work next year. Yes, we've heard that before -- construction was due to start in 2018 until VIRL had to pivot and redirect its budget to remediating unexpected asbestos issues at several libraries on the North Island. And there was optimistic talk of ground being broken this year once VIRL filed its Development Permit with the District. Said DP was indeed filed as a first draft in January only for prudent District staff to weigh in with their own recommended revisions and fixes, which required still more negotiations that have continued through late last month.
It's important to note that we're one of 39 branches in the VIRL system, all of which merit due attention and care. The Nanaimo HQ team led by Executive Director Rosemary Bonanno has overseen substantial renovations or new builds in a dozen communities since 2011 while also funding upgraded furniture, equipment and IT resources in all its branches. (Check out the sleek new self check-out machine by the front doors in Sooke, for instance.)
VIRL is Canada's 13th largest regional library system and we in Sooke are not alone in wanting the trifecta of bigger/newer/better. Campbell River, Tofino, North Saanich, Queen Charlotte, Port McNeill and Ladysmith all desire new-build libraries as part of planned civic developments that will feature shovel-ready land donated by each municipality to VIRL.
The Parksville and Sidney branches have undergone upgrades over the last 12 months. A new prefabricated library (based on a scalable design for pocket-sized communities in the system) opens in Sayward during Christmas week and in the Village of Woss north of Campbell River next year. A beautiful new 5,000 sq foot library in Chemainus (also designed, like ours, by HDR Architecture's Juanito Gulmatico) is slated to open in early 2020.
Of course, it has been Sooke's turn for some long years now. We certainly deserve our fair shake since local taxpayers have been routinely sending VIRL approximately 3.5 percent of our annual tax bills -- or $630,366 exactly in total from Sooke taxpayers this year. That's almost the same as what we collectively pay BC Transit. (In comparison, $2.9 million goes to the CRD, $4.7 million to School District #62, and $8.1 million to the District of Sooke for municipal services; another $2.1 million is coughed up by residents in the sewer specified area for sewer parcel fund taxes). Bottom line: The 2019 VIRL take (on Sooke's $492k average assessment) was about $95.00.
Our assessment maintains existing services for the 5,300 or so VIRL card-carrying Sookies in the region. It pays the building rent, light and heat, and the salaries of our VIP crew of helpful, friendly librarians. This investment gives us access to the 23,000 or so physical holdings (books, magazines, DVDs and CDs) in the current library. And, if you're a so-called "power-user" like me who knows how to work the 'hold' system to your advantage, you can also reserve any of the 3.4 million titles in the overall system. (Items without other holds arrive to my astonishment in a matter of days; inter-library loans from other BC library systems are also possible).
These numbers don't include the 1.6 million online-only e-holdings available through services like Hoopla, Kanopy and Libby, which this old luddite is learning to navigate now that I'm growing comfortable with my iPad.
56 Years of VIRL Service in Sooke
Sooke's first VIRL branch (as documented by Elida Peers here) opened in 1963 in what is now Barb's Barbershop, relocating several times (once into the current home of Route 14) before landing in its 2,639 sq. ft home on Anne Marie Road in the mid-1990s.
We've been top (or hovering near it) of VIRL's new-build priority list since at least 2008 (some claim earlier still). The sticking point was the District had no public land to donate to the project ~ land banking having not been a municipal priority since incorporation in 1999 when significant matters like a sewer system took precident. (Land, as other local governments understand to their profit, is a safe, rewarding investment that can become a civic goldmine through strategic rezoning.)
A request for proposals to local land owners was issued during Mayor Milne's term after he raised a ruckus about the lack of action in 2013. While this netted some useful leads (including Lions Park on Murray Road), none of the raw land on offer was big enough for VIRL's purposes (it wanted a 10,000 sq. foot minimum, one-story building due to its staffing requirements, and hence needed to expand out, not up.)
Councillor Reay made a Notice of Motion (Feb. 23, 2015) that the southwest corner of John Phillips Memorial Park might be a suitable location, and a staff report was to be readied on the subject (with the proviso that the District hold onto land title, as is the case with the lease in the current scenario.) Then, bravo, the District did move smartly in early 2016 to purchase the five-acre, Waddams Way-fronting "Lot A" for $1.42 million with the intention of dedicating 20 percent of it to the library.
Silly season kicked in when the District and VIRL banged heads over who'd pay to clear the promised land in the northwest corner. SEAPARC was suddenly (and, fortunately in many/most local minds) only briefly in the mix as an alternative location even as council argued that any library worthy of the name "public" was best suited for the heart of town. Happy, happy, joy, joy on March 18, 2017 when the announcement came that the VIRL board had voted to accept Lot A on our terms and would prepare the land at its own cost.
“Hats off to the library board, and Rosemary and her staff," Reay told the Voice News that day. "They don’t give up. It was a collaborative effort – District of Sooke staff, Sooke Council, the staff and executive of VIRL, Juan de Fuca Electoral Area Director Mike Hicks, and the library board itself." All involved thought the project would get underway within a year, but then cue the hold-ups and delays.
One big milestone moment came with the unveiling of the architect's plans for our unique library-in-the-round in May, 2018. It's a striking building, described by HDR Architecture's Gulmatico as an "iconic addition to Sooke's dynamic growth ... the circular form of the building was inspired by the idea of a 'log' section wrapped with vertical cedar paneling that emulates the texture of a 'tree bark.' The circular form also responds to the functional requirement fo the library in which a clear sightline should be maintained from the central service desk to the majority of the space for security."
Further from Gulmatico: "The library's main entrance offers a welcoming feel and a strong street presence defined by heavy timber columns and beams supporting the canopy strcture ... the building's west coast character is enhanced by stone accent cladding that compliments the rustic look of vertical cedar siding. The use of corrugated metal cladding adds texture and contrast to the exterior palette."
All Good Things In Time
In my experience this last year, there has been a respectful, healthy exchange of ideas between District staff on one hand and VIRL and its architects on the other. No "help!" signs have been required, thanks the same.
One of my first acts on council upon being appointed as the VIRL rep was to take a roadtrip to Nanaimo with our then-acting CAO Brent Blackhall to meet with Ms. Bonanno and VIRL's Finance Director Joel Adams. VIRL filed the first draft of the Development Permit in January, triggering a set of referrals to outside agencies (Ministry of Transportation, BC Hydro, Telus, CRD Water Services) and District departments.
Our Engineering, Planning and Parks & Environment teams all had sets of valid questions, which were addressed as the DP evolved to its current state (the latest of five revisions to the Landscape Plan, for instance, was filed on Oct. 31). Only when the Development Permit is accepted by council can the lease (which itself has gone through a series of rewrites) be signed.
Boldface closer: I've argued, and will continue to do so, that getting it right is vastly more important than getting it done fast when the project in question is intended to serve Sooke's growing population for the next generation or two.
Links of Related Interest
~ Canadian Library Association
~ Canadian Urban Libraries Council
~ Canadian Federation of Library Associations
~ Public Libraries in British Columbia (Province of BC website) ~ "British Columbia has 71 public libraries with 241 service locations in which more than 15.6 million items are available to borrow. In 2017, 52 million items were checked out, and libraries offered 74,000 programs to the public, attended by 1.74 million people. B.C. libraries have 3,600 computers available for public use."
~ British Columbia Library Association
~ "BC Municipalities Want Province To End Library Funding Freeze" (September, 2019; the District of Sooke was among the BC municipalities that submitted a letter in support of this campaign to increase provincial funding for public libraries)
~ Neil Gaiman and Chris Ridell ~ On Why We Need Libraries
~ Links to Libraries ~ Learning to read proficiently is a child's best chance for success in school and in life. By increasing their access to books, Link to Libraries strives to inspire young readers and enhance the language and literacy skills of children of all cultural backgrounds. To date, Link to Libraries has distributed over 650,000 new books to school libraries and to the home libraries of children in need, many of whom have never previously owned a book.
~ 100 Most Borrowed Books ~ A foundation for a well-stocked library
~ "What Libraries Do" ~ "Libraries level the playing field. As great democratic institutions, serving people of every age, income level, location, ethnicity, or physical ability, and providing the full range of information resources needed to live, learn, govern, and work."
~ Libraries (Pinterest collection of images) + Quotes about libraries
~ CBC Radio's Michael Enright ~ "In Praise of Librarians"
~ 12 Authors Write About the Libraries They Love ~ New York Times article featuring recollections by Barbara Kingsolver, Amy Tan, Annie Proulx and others.