By Laura Keil

As a step towards buying 521 Main St, the McBride library and museum associations have signed a lease with the owner to use the space over the winter.

The library and museum hope to submit a feasibility study to the Regional District for their December meeting. The feasibility study would outline the possible effects of moving the library and museum into a bigger commercial building on Main St.

As things stand, the museum and library use three buildings to house books and artifacts. Joel Zahn, chair of the joint library & museum expansion committee, says the cost of heating and maintaining the existing buildings are higher than the costs would be to heat and maintain the new space.

“Our space is ageing,” says Librarian Naomi Balla-Boudreau. She says they would also like to provide a quiet space for people to study and a space for kids to play games – things that are not compatible in a cramped area.

The library and museum already offer numerous children’s programs and adult literacy activities and exhibits – but limited space and too much moisture often interfere with their efforts.

If the Regional District accepts the feasibility study, it would trigger a referendum among local ratepayers to see whether they wish to create a new service.

Zahn says the impact on ratepayers is still unknown and will be fleshed out in the feasibility study and relayed to the public through several public meetings prior to the vote.

The cost of the change is complicated by numerous factors – the selling of old assets (the library building, for instance, which is owned by the library association, or the annex, which is owned by the regional district). It’s also unclear whether the building would be rezoned to public institutional or left commercial. If it’s left with a commercial zoning, the cost of the yearly taxes would be $20,000/year.

Through a herculean fundraising effort, the library and museum have raised $120,000 over the past couple years towards the purchase of the new property (the asking price of the building is $500,000 – less than it would cost to build new, Zahn says). One library patron, Vernon Pawloske, 70, hiked and biked 200km in 24 hours to raise money for the expansion. The tally of his effort was $7,000. The library and museum hope to secure more money through grants and more fundraising.
Some of the fundraising money has already been spent on two adjoining empty lots purchased this past summer. Zahn says the lots could be used to build a new building if the bid for 521 is not successful, or they may be used as green space and outdoor exhibit areas if they do purchase the building.

This winter, 521 Main will be used to host workshops and to store some equipment and artifacts, Zahn says. He adds the lease will help them save money this winter, by moving artifacts out of the inefficient storage building they rented from the Village.

Librarian Naomi Balla-Boudreau says the expansion is needed not only because the associations are running out of space, but because the nature of libraries and museums is changing.

“We’re looking to move from just signing out a book to providing a kind of community centre where
we encourage education and connection in a lot of different ways.”

They have dubbed the new space “The Robson Valley Learning and Exploration Centre.”

If the proposal proceeds to a referendum, it will likely be held in the spring – late March or early April.