Good news: VIRL and the BC Government Employees Union have reached a tentative agreement on a new four-year contract with the help of a mediator.
As I wrote on Facebook last month: "Do so appreciate and respect this crew, among them BCGEU librarians Peter McGuire and Natalie Jones (seen with supportive CUPE colleagues in this photo I took on the first day rotating job actions reached Sooke two Fridays ago.)
As Sooke's Vancouver Island Regional Library trustee, I'm also aware of the pressures faced by an organization that gets 94% of its funding from property taxes and hasn't seen an increase in provincial support (the remaining 6%) in more than a decade.
The main sticking point, as you'll have read elsewhere, is wages. And the wild card is the fast-rising cost of living (+4.7% this February compared to last) and how to factor an unpredictable fiscal future into a multi-year contract.
The encouraging news is that a mediator is now at the table and, to echo all of us on the VIRL board, we're keen that a fair and respectful deal be finalized -- hopefully sooner rather than later, it almost goes without saying and yet I'll earnestly say it anyway.
Worth noting is that larger-scale union negotiations are underway on multiple fronts -- CRD, Metro Vancouver, the Province of BC -- and this particular arm-wrestle is being closely watched as a benchmark at the dawn of a new inflationary era. (Personally, I'll add that your minimum-wage counsellor has never belonged to a union and would never dream of crossing a picket line.)
If you want to share your own thoughts on this, please write me at email@example.com and I'll forward to VIRL and the board.
In the meantime, do check out our new mecca when an action isn't underway in the unlikely event you've not done so yet. Staff have been issuing 25 new cards a day on average during the opening month and the raves keep rolling in. (Eavesdropping in the stacks last week, I heard a North Saanich couple tell another patron that they'd made a special trip in and were beyond awestruck. In return, they learned Route 14 serves fabulous lunches, that Sooke has a world-class thrift store and that they really should take time for a return visit to the Potholes.)"
First and most important in these long-awaited opening hours of Sooke's new temple of learning and loaning (even with the grim news from Ukraine clouding this gloriously sunny day.) As of this morning at 10 AM, proud patrons and the curious (aka the soon-to-be card-carrying) are welcome to drop-in, explore and check-out their fill of the 38k item collection (double the previous size). Drop-ins welcome based on the new seven-day-a-week operating hours (masks mandatory for now, of course).
The official opening is set for Sat. March 26 at an event that will feature, among much else, celebratory sounds from our own next-generation musicians in the Harmony Project Sooke and its thunderous Drumline.
Full details to be found on the Vancouver Island Regional Library's Sooke branch page and within its latest pre-opening press release. Scan my previous posts below for a decade-long saga replete with steady lobbying, patient collaboration, one spectacularly savvy land purchase by District council (Lot A, whose $1.4 million pricetag in 2016 secured five crucial town-centre acres that have likely quadrupled in value these last five years) ... all this then followed by bold architectural design, exactingly detailed negotiations between the District and VIRL and finally a smartly orchestrated construction plan overseen by VIRL's team in Nanaimo with execution by IWCD.
Yowzers! (let's hear that tune again.)
In addition to all else (an enlarged team of ace librarians very much included), the new library is notable as a climate-smart inspiration in a community aspiring to a net zero future. No question, the necessarily tight $7.5 million budget required cost efficiencies (i.e., no solar panels, though the structure is ready for them when funding is available).
Yet the HVAC (heating/cooling) system is powered by a bank of heat pumps. The passive solar design is made all the more effective by exterior window shading devices. The ground floor parking area features four EV chargers (one reserved for staff) and generous bike racks (also at the Wadams Way-facing front doors). Inside are low-flow toilets, LED light fixtures and enviro-friendly building/finishing materials.
Also part of the appeal: Reading nooks, modernist seating (comfortable but not so much that they're suitable for naps), study areas, ten computer terminals, bookable meeting rooms with kitchenette, and a childrens' makerspace featuring KEVA blocks, snap circuits, art easels and a button-maker.
Of beautiful note is the exterior landscaping with its 33 trees (nine varieties) and diverse array of large (3), medium (748) and small (447) shrubs along with groundcover plants (316) and a mix of perennials, annuals and ferns (852 plants).
Exactly the right starter for Lot A's green and pleasant future as a civic hub. (Reminder: As determined by the Lot A charette in 2018/19, a public plaza will be situated due south of the library, Sooke's proposed elders' complex is earmarked for the northeast quadrant and expanded health care facilities are set for the southeast portion as Evergreen Mall reorients and integrates.)
Still more details in this verbatim report from HDR Architects (click this link for the firm's own library overview) ...
"SUSTAINABLE MATERIALS & STRATEGIES ~ Sooke Library
Wood First Initiative
Promoting BC’s forest sector and supporting our forest-dependent communities by advancing the use of wood across the province.
- Wood is sourced locally. Building with wood supports our economy and local communities.
- Wood is strong, lightweight and flexible. Wood building systems have been proven to be seismically safe.
- Wood comes from renewable, certified and sustainably managed forests.
- As one of the most durable and safe building products, wood creates optimal living and working environments while meeting code and safety requirements.
- Wood buildings are easy to renovate, expand and adapt to changing uses
- Wood is a responsible choice that helps reduce our environmental footprint due to the reduced energy required to create wood building products and through carbon storage in the wood itself.
In support of Sooke’s environmental stewardship initiative, the design embraces “Green” technologies such as electric vehicle charging stations (type: Level 2) and provisions for future solar energy integration.
- A solar shading device is integrated on the building’s exterior to prevent solar heat gain during the hottest times of the year. The location of the shades was determined using solar analysis that determined the amount of fins and placement so that the building blocks the sun at specific time during the summer solstice. The angles of these blades are positioned so that they allow natural daylight and beneficial heat gain in during the colder months of the year. This passive design strategy is proven to put less stress on the mechanical cooling system and ultimately save energy, while increasing occupant comfort.
- Luminaires for site lighting were carefully selected to include glare-shield that prevents light pollution and nuisance to residents or adjacent properties.
- Exterior spray insulation for parkade soffits – “Monoglass” contains minimum 25% re-cycled content.
- Lighting design utilizes energy efficient LED fixtures.
- The deeper central area of the building is equipped with tubular daylighting system to introduce natural daylighting into the space without the glare of conventional skylights. This eliminates the need for artificial lighting during the day.
- Interior spaces are equipped with sensors that turn the lights off within 30 mins when space is unoccupied.
- Exterior lights are controlled by photocell that automatically turn the lights on at sunset and off at sunrise.
The building utilizes low-flow plumbing fixtures to conserve water.
Superior indoor environment
Low-VOC interior finishes and radiant floor heating and cooling promotes indoor occupant comfort.
Sheet Resilient Flooring (by Forbo Marmoleum)
- Marmoleum is made from an average of 97% natural raw materials, 72% of which are renewable.
- Made from natural ingredients (linseed oil, wood flour, limestone etc)
- Marmoleum is also made with recycled content to reduce the need for virgin raw material.
- At the end of its long life, Marmoleum is 100% biodegradable.
- Marmoleum finish with Topshield2, which, together with its natural bacteriostatic properties means the floor is hygienic and needs less cleaning with less harmful chemicals. Approved by Allergy UK and with TVOC’s 30 times lower than the European norm and CO2 emissions 50% lower than other resilient flooring contributes to a healthier indoor environment.
- Manufacture program can recycle installation off-cuts into new Marmoleum at its plants in Scotland and the Netherlands
Flocked Resilient Flooring (by Forbo Flotex)
- Flotex tiles and planks contain up to 52% recycled content and Flotex is the only flocked flooring to have been assessed under BREAAM (and rated mostly A/A+).
- Flotex flooring is 100% waterproof, which means it just need water and standard cleaning materials, (and no chemicals) for an effective clean.
- Flotex is proven to have a positive effect on the lives of allergy sufferers and is the only textile floor covering to receive the prestigious Allergy UK Seal of Approval™* Phthalate free, slip resistant and offering up to 20dB impact noise reduction.
- “Back to the Floor” scheme, a manufacturer program, can collect clean Flotex installation off-cuts and recycle them at its plant in Ripley, Derbyshire.
Acoustic ceiling tiles (by Armstrong)
- The Optima Square Lay-In, Armstrong ACT contains 71% recycled content.
Millwork Laminate: Formica
- Formica® brand decorative compact laminates are manufactured in North America and contain 12% post-consumer recycled wood fiber content.
Solid surface countertop: Wilsonart solid surface
- Renewable and repairable surface
- Composition: Acrylic resins, fire-retardant mineral fillers, and proprietary coloring agents. Through-the-body color for full thickness of sheet material.
- Wilsonart Solid Surface is highly resistant to stains and easy to maintain. Wilsonart Solid Surface has attained GREENGUARD Certification from UL Environment for low chemical emissions into indoor air during product usage.
Upholstery Fabric: Momentum Beeline
- All Momentum fabrics are made of recycled or natural fibers.
- All products are PVC-free and Greenguard certified.
Storm water management
- Rainwater roof runoff is captured and utilized for the Rain Garden and eventually gets absorbed by a rock pit instead of releasing it to the Municipal drain system.
- Site runoff are captured and filtered through a vegetated bioswale that runs along the South property line. Bioswales are beneficial in recharging groundwater."
Okay, time now to step away from this virtual world and into the living, undoubtedly buzzing with energy and day-one delight, finished product. But first, once more with considerable (yet hushed and in my own head only, it's a library after all) feeling.
Oct. 19, 2020
Work begins on the library site in the northwest corner of Lot A today with surveys and brush removal. A final hurdle was overcome through negotiations between the District and VIRL leading to unanimous approval by the library's board of trustees on Sept. 21 and the awarding of the contract early the following week.
Among the pre-approved applicants, the job has gone to Nanaimo's long-established Island West Coast Developments Ltd. It specializes in commercial properties (the new Belmont Market on the site of the old Belmont Secondary School in Langford is the latest), affordable housing, community and senior centres, and other public-sector projects (i.e, Tofino's RCMP headquarters). Here's the VIRL announcement, Sooke's own press release and media coverage here, here and here. (Plus this reminder of the way it was a year ago).
HDR Architects has prepared this artist's rendered-preview of the final product. Anticipated opening day will be some glorious spring Saturday in 2022 all things proceeding as hoped and planned. Watch this page for VIRL updates.
Rather wonderfully, Sooke Elementary School librarian Liz Stannard and her charges have salvaged plants from the library site -- sword ferns, ocean spray, Oregon grape -- to create a new native-plants garden at the school. Meanwhile, the current branch carries on with distanced service, smiles and the riches of the outdoor (fair weather) cart of free books. Gratitude for that and those who serve the card-carrying amongst us.
April 25, 2020
Typing these words fresh from a Vancouver Island Regional Library board meeting this morning. With reps from municipalities and regional districts throughout Van Isle and region in attendance along with the library's executive team, the Zoom screen was packed with most of the same 42 or so shining faces who typically make it to Nanaimo for bimonthly board meetings (including long-haulers from the Haida Gwaii who are understandably happy with the new virtual arrangement).
Key point of local interest raised today is that our new-build library project remains on course as per these bullet points included in the VIRL facilities report ... <clip>
- "The building permit has been approved, and construction will be tendered, evaluated and awarded after the pre-qualification for general contractors closes on April 23. The pre-qualification was initially scheduled to close March 23, but VIRL received multiple requests to extend the timeline. (note: 10 bids were received by Thursday's closing date, hooray and all the better for a competitive process).
- VIRL anticipates construction starting in the second or third quarter of 2020, with the branch opening 1 to 1 1⁄2 years after construction commences.
- VIRL has extended the lease at the current location, so there will be no disruption of library services for Sooke."
All more-or-less as planned, pandemic and all. Now over to VIRL's cool and experienced staff to choose the best candidate, negotiate a contract and firm the start date. As i typed into the Zoom chat box when it was our turn on the alphabetical project list after North Saanich, Port Alberni and Tofino (whose planned new libraries are in far earlier stages of development than we): "Cue wild applause and gratitude from #Sooke."
Today's agenda also included a review of the steps and strategies taken by VIRL since it closed its 39 branches on March 16 just a few hours after the Prime Minister and Dr. Bonnie Henry issued their respective calls for us all to stay home. While nine in ten of VIRL's 456 employees are currently laid off (with pay through the end of June), staffing will ramp up a little in the weeks ahead as new virtual programming is introduced.
Notably among these services are expanded email, telephone and video conferencing assistance for those of us tentatively exploring VIRL's various digital platforms. Logically enough, the eLibrary has taken off over the last month with a 50% increase in eBook borrowing (nearly 500 a day now) and 30% more AudioBook loans. (Personally, I've discovered RBdigital and its trove of new-release magazine titles; I've just scored the latest Harper's, Mojo and New Yorker for reading over the next week). VIRL has increased its investments in digital titles and publishers have been easing restrictions on accessibility to bestsellers.
Also in the works are live online story time readings for kids and, via social media and LinkedIn, online book clubs. VIRL has also received appreciative feedback on its decision to offer 24/7 WiFi outside its branches with the proviso that everyone follow physical distancing protocols. A strategy for re-opening branches is being explored for that hopefully not-too-distant day when Dr. Henry issues the all-clear.
Nov. 21, 2019
The Story To Date
Just as we enter what might be called the third trimester in the extended birth of Sooke's new library ~ the 100-year land lease is finalized, the Development Permit will be presented to council on Monday night ~ the Sooke News Mirror has weighed in with a truncated, largely accurate Coles Notes account of the decade just past, crowned in thorns with a clickbait headline and the image of someone holding up a 'Help' sign for what I can only assume is a touch of cynical humour. (The headline didn't read, of course, "hooray, we're almost there," as that might sound a bit too cheerleader-ish for a hardboiled community weekly, I suppose. That's my job as I'll hopefully proceed to do here.)
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 the campaign to dethaw (frozen since 2010) and increase BC funding for public libraries.) + BC Library Trustees Association' $20 million in 2020 campaign.
~ 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" ... "Libraries are about a lot more than books. They are community builders, shelters, outreach centres — in short, vital components of any social grouping sharing common goals and interests. And librarians are the guardians of that shared mission. Long may they flourish."
~ 12 Authors Write About the Libraries They Love ~ New York Times article featuring recollections by Barbara Kingsolver, Amy Tan, Annie Proulx and others.