by KORIE MARSHALL
Two draft bylaws went to the Regional District Board at its regular meeting this week, Dec 17th. They both passed third readings, so Robson Valley residents from Dome Creek to Croyden will get to vote on a deal to move McBride’s library and museum into new digs on Main Street.
The McBride & District Public Library and the Valley Museum and Archives have co-located at 241 and 261 Dominion Street, in a residential area, for 25 years. The two buildings offer a total of about 2,400 square feet of space, 500 of which is available to the museum for their displays.
“The current location is small and the library building and annex are old and beyond repair,” says a new report to the Regional District Board.
In 2012 a committee of representatives from the Library and Museum hired Shoop Group Consulting Ltd. to assist with a proposed expansion project which focused on the purchase of a vacant commercial building at 521 Main St. The committee’s original intention was that the purchase would be funded by grant opportunities, but those opportunities did not materialize.
In June 2015, the Regional District of Fraser-Fort George board authorized a feasibility study on creating a new service to support the expansion of the facility and evaluate alternatives. The study has been completed, and was submitted to the board in this week’s meeting agenda, with a request from the committee to proceed with a vote.
The purpose of the study was to identify if the current facilities meet the current needs of the two organizations; if they can support future needs of the community; any changes necessary to meet these needs; the costs associated with a new joint facility; and how the costs for a new facility could be funded.
The report says McBride’s library space, which is equivalent to 1.6 square feet per capita, is significantly less than the average of 2.7 square feet of other public libraries serving similar sized communities in BC. Meanwhile, “the museum lacks space to properly store and care for cultural and historic collections and is unable to acquire additional artifacts due to the lack of storage space. This limits the museum’s ability to be a place for residents and visitors to learn about the history and culture of the area.” The Mackenzie Museum has four times the display space (2,000 square feet) and the Valemount Museum has eight times (4,000 square feet).
The report looks at challenges with the existing buildings, including old and leaking windows, drainage issues causing mold and structural damage to the floor joists, which pose a threat to the integrity of the historical artifacts when on display, as well as an uncomfortable environment and higher heating costs.
In 2001 the Library association asked the Regional District to purchase the Annex next to the library to provide additional space for a computer room, program and meeting room and additional office space. Funds for the purchase came from the McBride and District Public Library, but the building has several limitations, including no wheelchair access, and no running water. “The building is beyond repair,” says the report.
The report also looks at the challenges faced by the Library when offering programs, many of which are for children and seniors. Programs often exceed comfortable space available and participation has to be limited due to space and fire capacity regulations.
To meet current and future needs, the library and museum have looked at a number of options over the past several years, including rebuilding on the Annex property, building a second story on the current library, and building a new facility on the two lots the library is currently situated on. The Shoop report also identified and assessed a number of vacant properties that a new facility could be situated on.
The feasibility study looked at the three most sustainable and financially viable options to meet the needs of both the library and museum. “All three options require the establishment of a new service, borrowing of funds for capital expenditures and raising funds through taxation to cover debt repayment costs,” says the report.
Option 1: Renovate existing library and annex. Would require complete replacement of the Annex, and additional space at the library would be limited to 1,000 additional square feet on a new second floor. Other limitations include insufficient parking and requirements to conform to current building, zoning and universal access design principles (like elevators to access the second floor). Estimated cost: $1.052 million.
Option 2: Build a new facility on two empty lots on Main Street. The Museum with support from the Library purchased the two lots next to 521 Main Street in July 2015. A new facility could be designed and built to meet many needs of the two organizations, but there would still be an issue with insufficient parking, a lack of green space, and rezoning and variance permits would need to be approved. Estimated cost: $1.63 million.
Option 3: Purchase 521 Main Street. Would provide 7,000 square feet, sufficient space for the library and museum’s current and future programming needs, as well as shared space. The new facility would be built to a universal design, would offer sufficient parking as well as green/outdoor space with the lots the museum owns next door, would be easy to locate for residents and visitors, and would mean no disruption of service during renovations. Some limitations are that the property needs to be rezoned, additional renovations will be required over time, and approval from the Minister of Education for a long term lease arrangement (for the Library) may be required. Estimated cost: $668,230.
As part of Option 3, the Regional District would purchase and maintain ownership of 521 Main Street, offering a long term lease or property use agreement to the McBride & District Public Library Association. Operation and maintenance of the building would be the responsibility of the library, who would enter into a long-term agreement with Valley Museum and Archives Society. This is the option the study recommends.
The Regional District has already entered into a conditional offer to purchase 521 Main Street. The offer is contingent on elector assent (previously known as a referendum) to establish a new service, having the two bylaws (Service Area Establishment Bylaw and Loan Authorization Bylaw) adopted by the Regional District Board, and the Village of McBride approving rezoning of the property. The offer has a closing date of June 30, 2016, which all conditions must be met by.
The report lists a proposed capital budget of $668,230 (including $44,700 donation from the Library and Museum raised for the project), and includes the building purchase, renovation and repairs, engineering report and contingencies.
The proposed annual operating budget for the service is $74,550, which includes $34,550 for the first 25 years for debt repayment, and $20,000 to cover property taxes. That budget would mean a tax rate of $27.47 per $100,000 residential property value, or $67.30 per $100,000 business property value.
In a letter to the board, Joel Zahn, chair of the committee, says the primary issue with the Library’s current buildings is space.
“To say ‘we are cramped,’ is an understatement.” He says the secondary issue is the buildings’ age and maintenance issues. “Rather than put vast amounts of money into an aging facility and be left with an aging facility, we truly believe it would be in the community’s best interest, and in the interest of being fiscally responsible, to acquire a newer facility – a facility that will allow us to expand our programming and benefit to our community.”
The bylaws will now be submitted to the Ministry of Community, Sport and Cultural Development for approval and election officers will be appointed for the voting. Public meetings and notifications are planned for March 2016, with voting in April.