Regina library board passes motion for a new downtown branch on site of the existing building

The Regina Public Library board voted to recommend building a new downtown branch despite opposition.   (Submitted by Regina Public Library - image credit)
The Regina Public Library board voted to recommend building a new downtown branch despite opposition. (Submitted by Regina Public Library - image credit)

The Regina Public Library board voted to build a new library to replace the downtown branch, despite opposition from some members of the public who want to preserve the historic building.

"Of all the options the board has considered, this approach is best aligned with Regina Public Library's strategic imperative to positively impact the community," board chair Sean Quinlan said Tuesday night.

Six board members voted in favour of the motion and two — John Findura and Sandra Masters — opposed it.

The board made their decision after hearing from nine members of the public who also oppose the move. Many of them are concerned about the disruption of services, loss of heritage, environmental impacts and the lack of public consultation.

Discussions about the future of the library, which opened in 1912, have been going on for years.

In 2009, the city included the branch in plans for a possible community hub, and a study outlining the need for a new Central Library was released in 2012. Since then, there have been a facility analysis, requests for funding and the creation of a development plan.

Regina Public Library meeting
Regina Public Library meeting

The cost to refurbish the current Regina Central Library would be approximately $50 million, according to one presentation, which would only cover the renovations necessary to bring the structure up to code and does not include any improvements or changes to the space.

Among the issues that need to be addressed are an inadequate heating system and an aging electrical infrastructure. The building's concrete is deteriorating, there's asbestos in the ceiling and there are unspecified safety issues, according to the report.

However, Florence Stratton, one of the delegation members, doesn't think tearing down the old building is the solution.

"You never considered the environment"

"Abolishing the central library and putting in a new structure would create substantial carbon emissions and as well as adding substantial material to the regional landfill," said Stratton, an English professor at the University of Regina.

"It would be much more economical in terms of both money and carbon dioxide emissions to retrofit the current building."

Others alluded to scientific evidence of environmental consequences of demolishing existing buildings rather than upgrading.

Regina Public Board Meeting
Regina Public Board Meeting

"How will the RPL mitigate the negative impacts on climate change during the deconstruction and the outright carbon costs created during the construction process," Bernadette Wagner said, asking the board whether they'll do an environmental audit.

"Attacking the environment, shame on you. You never considered the environment."

"No proper public consultation"

Some members of the public said they didn't have enough time to prepare for the meeting.

"The RPL is rushing to a decision without adequate public input," said Joanne Havelock, a Friends of the Regina Library group representative.

Havelock said on Sep. 16, the RPL released 12 new reports, some dating back to 2009, but the public only had four days to read the reports before submitting written presentations for Tuesday's delegation.

"This is not nearly enough time."

Havelock has questioned the $50-million price tag, saying the last detailed cost figures, from 2015, were $28.5 million to upgrade the existing building.

Board members like Cindy Kobayashi said the catalyst committee is engaging in "extensive community consultation" and members of the public would have opportunities in the future to contribute.

"Loss of heritage"

"The current building has a very significant heritage value and an outstanding example of mid 20th century design," Lorne Beug, a visual artist, said.

"The lead architect Kiyoshi Izumi was one of Saskatchewan's leading architects in the 50s and 60s. To destroy his work seems disrespectful, especially in light of the treatment of Japanese-Canadians in World War Two."

The library already has a heritage designation and "ripping it off when convenient" is a major "loss of heritage," Beug said, adding the RPL should take a hybrid approach and add a new addition to the west wing.

Quinlin said a lot has to be done before any final decisions are made.

Ultimately, the library's fate will be decided by city council.

"The bulldozer isn't coming tomorrow," Quinlan said.