United Way Perth-Huron building new access centre at Listowel library site

·4 min read

NORTH PERTH – On May 16, North Perth council passed a motion to make an agreement to sell the Listowel branch of the North Perth Public Library at 260 Main St. W. to United Way Perth-Huron.

The plan is to create an Access Centre for the community, a plan that’s been in the works for a while.

“The agreement is the culmination of seven years of work, so it’s been a long time coming,” said United Way Perth-Huron Executive Director Ryan Erb. The push for the agreement came after a lack of a United Way Access Centre in North Perth has caused issues for the community. After a feasibility study and discussions with community members, the site of the library seemed like the ideal place.

“When people had a need, they were coming to the library,” Erb went on. “Increasingly, they were coming with needs that perhaps library staff weren’t prepared to meet.

“That’s been a challenge. The library really is a hub for the community, and what’s beautiful about the partnership that we imagined with the library… they now can refer them directly to a service that’s in the building, so it really does help people get what they need quicker and easier. It helps the library staff to have the professional backing of local services to help them with whatever challenge might come through the door.

“For a long time we’ve been talking about the challenge of access to social services,” he continued. “North Perth, in general, doesn’t have head offices for very many services, because they are satellited out of Stratford or other locations. What we want to do is to make sure that people don’t have to drive to another town or location to receive services. Some organizations provide service in a scattered site way with office space here and there. We want to gather them into the Access Centre.”

Seventeen organizations have signed letters of intent to join together in an office space, but Erb says there is still a lot more to do before things are finalized. For instance, he said that a not-for-profit will be created under United Way and the Access Centre will be kept under them.

“There’s a long way to go,” said Erb. The business model isn’t clear, the costs aren’t clear. We just know that a lot of people are interested.”

Apart from the organizations that are planning to be involved, Erb says they are also looking to create affordable residential units to help with the community’s growing housing crisis.

Their plans for the lot involve extensive work to be done to the space. At first Erb says they were looking to add onto the building, but after some planning they discovered an addition wouldn’t be cost effective. They are now looking into rebuilding the library while retaining the historical Carnegie Building.

By using the footprint of the existing library and adding a little more, the community will have a new library that “will meet the growing needs of the community.”

What’s important, he says, is that the library will continue to operate as normal. “We’re not trying to take the land away from the community, right?” Erb said. “It’s going to stay in the community. There will be a board of directors with community members included. I just don’t want there to be anxiety about the land being given to United Way because it’s not going anywhere. The public won’t really notice (a change). It’s just really a matter of getting it done so that we can have access to some significant funds, like from the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation and other funds that not-for-profit organizations like ourselves have access to.”

Under this model the library will serve as tenants to United Way. No operational changes are planned and Erb stressed that it will be cost-neutral for the library, so no additional burdens will be placed upon it.

In an emailed statement, North Perth Library CEO Ellen Whelan wrote, “the North Perth community is growing and the library is pleased to have the opportunity to grow in cooperation with the Municipality of North Perth and United Way through the Access Centre.”

Erb says that working with the municipality and the library has been great. There is a lot of work to do, but everyone is on board to get it done. There is no timeline for when plans will be finalized or when the sale will go through, but Erb wants the community to be reassured that this will be a positive change to North Perth. Included in the sale agreement is a five-year reverse sale clause.

“It’s basically a failsafe for the municipality and for the community that the land isn’t just being taken.” Erb clarified. “The library will continue to operate as it is, even though the land underneath will be owned by this not-for-profit corporation affiliated with the United Way.”

Connor Luczka, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Listowel Banner

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