Library system considering levy to pay for growth

VIRL hopes to expand Sidney North Saanich branch within five years

The Sidney North Saanich branch of the Vancouver Island Regional Library.

There are changes afoot for the Sidney North Saanich branch of the Vancouver Island Regional Library (VIRL) but users will have to wait nearly five years to see them.

VIRL executive director Rosemary Bonanno and director of finance Adrian Mass recently presented Sidney town council with their long-range plans for the local library branch. As part of their ongoing planning, VIRL is looking to change the floor plan and interior elements of the Sidney North Saanich library — even expand the facility itself. Mass said the branch renewal is expected to take between four or five years, as funding and priorities are developed.

“Before we can do anything, we have to have a toolkit in place,” Mass said.

That toolkit is a proposed local service area (LSA) that would raise money in the form of a tax to help pay for the renovation of the library. Mass said meeting with the town and its partner in the library — the District of North Saanich — is a vital first step to gauge local interest and need.

VIRL is also considering other funding options through all of its branch renewal projects. A facilities master plan not only calls on the VIRL to catch up on growth and upgrades to its libraries, but to look at direct ownership, partnerships and private-sector investment as ways to obtain funding. High on the priority list is direct ownership, which would involve seeking support for an LSA at the Capital Regional District level. That, Mass explained, would allow VIRL to borrow from a pool of money raised throughout the CRD.

Mayor Larry Cross noted that Sidney would have to sign on to such a plan through the CRD.

“Without that,” added Mass, “we would have no access to borrowed funds at all.”

What the VIRL is proposing, Mass continued, is an LSA that would cover branches in Sidney, Sooke, Metchosin and elsewhere. Boananno and Mass added they are starting their pitch to municipalities in the VIRL system now, in advance of the 2014 budget year.

The Sidney North Saanich branch at approximately 6,000 square feet in floor space, serves an estimated 47 per cent of the population. To reach more people, Bonanno said it needs to grow to some 11,000 sq. ft. to facilitate additional services and draw in more users.

“We are finding people want a larger hub for their community,” said Bonanno in response to a question from Councillor Mervyn Lougher-Goodey.

“Are there any differences in the Sidney branch, over another branch?” Lougher-Goodey asked, referring to Sidney’s population of ‘people of a certain age’.

Bonanno said while the local library does get its share of senior users, there is plenty of interest in its services from school children at any age level. The library, she added, offers access to more than one million items — books, videos, DVDs, ebooks, online databases and more — throughout the VIRL system.