Library plans good as they are

By Korie Marshall

Our Regional District spends a lot of money each year on the rinks in our communities, and when you see the weekend kid’s hockey tournaments, or the skating carnival put on in Valemount, it’s hard to deny that it’s a good investment – money well spent. That is one way our communities invest in sport and physical activities for all of us, not just for the kids. I would argue that our libraries are the closest things we have to arts centres.

It seems that arts often play “second fiddle” to sports – arts programs often get less emphasis in schools and less funding from the federal government. While people don’t seriously argue the value of physical activity in maintaining the health of our communities, people often have to make arguments for the value of the creative and imaginative aspects of arts programs, and a different, often non-competitive way of engaging in community.

The issue of Valemount’s possible library expansion came up at Council recently because the library board was looking for an updated letter of support

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Building plans of proposed library expansion.
Photo submitted.
as they begin looking for funding to build the expansion. The councillors in the room (Councillor Hollie Blanchette left the discussion because of her connection with the library) all agreed that they still support the expansion, but Mayor Andru McCracken said he has a different view. He seems to think that in a time of economic difficulties, there are better ways to spend our collective money and energy; that the expansion is not really needed; and that more focus should be put on Valemount’s 5th Avenue area.

At the time, I agreed with Councillor Sandy Salt – it seems a strange thing to bring up again, when some of these concerns were addressed by the Library board in the fall, and the three councillors already had quorum on the question of providing a letter of support.

I wondered if McCracken’s comments were politically calculated, an early testing of the water for an election campaign.

But I do appreciate McCracken bringing the issues up again, and I also appreciate Michael Lewis’s comments at the end of the council meeting – that maybe the library board could have provided more information with their request, as a reminder of where the project stands and its reasons and goals. When we work closely with something, we always seem to forget that others don’t know or remember as much as we do about it.

The library is not just about books. Donalda Beeson’s comments at the meeting are a good example of some of the many ways our community uses the library, and she feels we need more space. It is not just space for books, though that may be a small part of it. It is space for kids to come to reading groups, especially in the cold winter, space for seniors to get help learning about computers, space for people to come and do creative things and get creative ideas.

Could money be better spent on some new centre, some new building that is more energy efficient, and offers the community a bright new space? Maybe, but I doubt you could do it for the $900,000 or so the library expansion is looking for. They are not looking for local tax dollars, and they are not looking to do it immediately, but it is something that has been in the works for a long time. Big projects take time, and a bigger project would take much longer.

But besides that, I take issue with the idea that a new bigger building somewhere else is necessarily a good thing. And who decided that 5th Avenue is more important than Main Street? Who really thinks that any one street can be the “core” of a community? Isn’t that thinking too small, and trying to put us all in to the same little “ticky-tacky” boxes?

The library in McBride is also struggling with a need for more space, and though they’ve been working very hard with a lot of support from the community, they have fallen short of raising the funding needed to move to a newer, better building. Why would it be any easier in Valemount?

I don’t think it will be easy, but I am in full support of the Valemount’s library expansion project.

How the library can save Valemount

By Laura Keil

My argument is not actually about the library. My argument is also not about Main St. My argument is about developing a thriving Valemount.

I’ve had the pleasure of visiting other BC towns over the past few years, and one thing stands out about the most successful ones – they have a busy central commercial district that looks vibrant and alive. When you see this vibrancy, you have fewer thoughts about whether investing there is a good idea.

While we are taking baby steps to get there, our downtown is still blighted with empty buildings and empty lots. Each of those empty spaces is a missed opportunity to attract people to our commercial hub.

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Building plans of proposed library expansion.
Photo submitted.

Has the thought never crossed your mind “Boy I wish someone with a million dollars would come build downtown to revitalize our central commercial area? A million dollars to attract new people downtown and make all businesses and services more viable as a result?”

A million dollars CAN build you a nice spacious downtown building. And yet, that is what the library intends to spend on an expansion of their existing space which is far removed from the densest area of commerce. I have nothing against Main St. But this argument is about Valemount’s long-term well being.

I live on 5th Ave just beyond two empty lots. All year round I watch highway traffic do U-turns in those lots. Why? Because they think they’ve reached the end of our commercial district. We can kid ourselves about how our community is beautifully spread out and how we love driving everywhere, but that is not what develops a better community.

Commerce happens when you go to the bank and notice the office store next door and remember you need ink. And then you remember that you have to renew your driver’s license and then you stop by the brewery for a beer. For thousands of years, commercial & cultural districts have clustered. There has to be a reason for that.

Building a beautiful library outside of downtown is like building two fires out of twigs. Neither fire burns as long or as bright. All the traffic currently going to the library is not within throwing distance of another business. So a) it’s less convenient for people doing errands – especially ones with limited mobility. B) all the businesses and organizations and culture happening on 5th is being starved of the wonderfully big library patron population. Why, when we have a choice, would we continue to plan our community in this way?

We have more power than we think to influence our economy and our arts and culture scene.

The library will benefit the most. It can build a beautiful energy efficient building on 5th with space that is built for its purpose. The library is tax-funded. It will always exist, no matter where it is located. It is also a magnet for families – it is an inclusive place. Why locate it next to the train tracks where few kids will ever go on their own?

The building could be combined with other family services, making it more affordable to build and maintain. Another BC town was suffering because it had so many energy inefficient buildings paid for by taxes. Someone had a great idea and the vision to build a new complex combining those services, a complex that drastically cut the power bill.

Even though they had to borrow in the short-run, long-term taxes went down. Can you think of a few energy inefficient buildings in our town?

Expanding our existing library will not attract any new residents. Jobs will. A vibrant town will. Businesses and
and non-profits need to work together to achieve this.

When all the developers and investors and knights in shining armour have courted us and drifted away, we will wake up and still see the Valemount Library. Now picture that library as the big and bold centre of town – much like churches used to be, and still are in many Quebecois communities.

Picture that library steeple with a bell ringing to remind everyone how much we embrace arts and literacy; how we ensure it is within sight and mind of everyone doing their daily errands. Suddenly tourists stop in and use the wifi and learn more about local attractions.

Property values rise and nearby buildings are rented or sold and new places crop up because there’s more activity, so many potential customers. This big bold library has not only gained itself a new space, but has changed the urban space for everyone.

We need to build for the future, set new roots. Not hang onto an old branch simply because we can’t see what’s beyond the leap.