Regina Public Library's interest in new downtown building fuels calls for public consultation, transparency

·4 min read
According to Friends of the Regina Public Library, RPL said it considered seven options for revitalizing the Central Library building. Yet, none of those options with cost estimates were made public for taxpayers to determine how they would like their money spent. (Alexander Quon/CBC - image credit)
According to Friends of the Regina Public Library, RPL said it considered seven options for revitalizing the Central Library building. Yet, none of those options with cost estimates were made public for taxpayers to determine how they would like their money spent. (Alexander Quon/CBC - image credit)

The Regina Public Library Board wants to demolish the city's downtown Central Library and build a new one in its place, but members of the public say they would like further consultation and transparency about costs.

The RPL board said it would cost about $50 million to bring the current downtown building up to code and believes the best option is to rebuild.

But Joanne Havelock, chair of the Friends of the Regina Public Library, questions the $50-million price tag for refurbishing the existing building. She said she wants to see the existing building maintained.

"The Friends of the Regina Public Library supports the preservation of the heritage value of the current library building. It seems that keeping the current building and including an addition to the current building would be the best use," Havelock said.

The public has not been informed on exactly how that projected $50 million would be used.

"They have provided no justification for these cost estimates," Havelock said.

"Preserving our heritage is very, very important and for one thing, I would like to see an accurate cost figure, rather than just the 'guesstimate' of $50 million, which the library board has been floating out without any substantive evidence."

The Friends of the Regina Public Library said in a statement released Wednesday that the Central Library is formally recognized by a City of Regina bylaw as being in the Victoria Park Heritage Conservation District.

The building was designed by Massey Award winning Regina architect Kyoshi Izumi, and opened in 1962. According to Havelock's organization, demolishing the building would require the city to change its bylaw with a vote at city council.

According to the RPL board, Regina's central library was only built to serve a city population of 110,000.

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Lapse in communication with public

Havelock also has concerns that the board has not discussed the environmental impact and costs of a new building with the public.

Meanwhile, the $50-million price tag will only cover the renovations necessary to bring the current structure up to code and does not include any improvements or changes to the space.

Among the issues that need to be addressed at the central library are an inadequate heating system and aging electrical infrastructure. Meanwhile, the building's roof is only "set on top" of the walls and "is not reinforced," according to the RPL board. The concrete in the building is also deteriorating, there is asbestos in the ceiling and there are other unspecified safety issues.

Some windows are not insulated and many are installed backwards, an RPL board report said.

Havelock also has concerns over how transparent the decision-making process for the Regina Public Library Board has been.

According to Friends of the Regina Public Library, the RPL said it considered seven options for revitalizing the Central Library building, but none of those options with cost estimates were made public for taxpayers to determine how they would like their money spent. Instead, Havelock said, the RPL Board made decisions behind closed doors.

The RPL board is expected to vote on the recommendation to demolish and rebuild the central branch at its public meeting on Sept. 27.

The board has said it will release the reports on the other options for the central branch by this Friday, Sept. 16. If members of the public want to present at that public meeting on Sept. 27, they will have to read the report and prepare their presentation by noon on Sept. 20.

Havelock said four days is an insufficient period of public consultation.

"More public time is needed to review the reports that they have received."

Regina Mayor Sandra Masters agrees that four days is not enough time for the public to respond to the board.

"I would agree with the folks that think that a weekend to respond is too short of a time," Masters said. "I think it's important that citizens get to weigh in on all matters related to where we invest public money."

The mayor sits on the RPL board, and said she will make her thoughts known at the Sept. 27 meeting.

"I think oftentimes sharing the information about how the analysis has been done should make the case for it. So that not being made public is clearly part of the issue right now."