Library battles loom over branch location

No one’s been shushed yet, but there’s a chance voices could get raised over the future of library services on the Saanich Peninsula.

  • Jul. 2, 2015 2:00 p.m.

No one’s been shushed yet, but there’s a chance voices could get raised as debate heats up over the future location of library services on the Saanich Peninsula.

The Vancouver Island Regional Library Board is holding meetings next month in Sidney and North Saanich. And while the meetings are primarily focused on operations over the next five years, at least one group is calling on members of the public to show up and express support for a single, expanded library branch in downtown Sidney.

“A downtown Sidney location is closer to the majority of the population,” said Town of Sidney Councillor Peter Wainwright.

He is advocating for either a new facility or an expansion of the existing location on Resthaven Drive.

“I know that even back in the year 2000 the regional library was telling us our branch was too small.”

In 2012, the VIRL said that Sidney and North Saanich needed more than 13,000 square feet of branch space to serve the region’s population. The existing Sidney branch is 5,671 sq. ft.

“Looking to the future, you would build something bigger to expect it to last,” Wainwright said, adding that the region will need about 18,000 sq. ft. of library space to keep pace with population growth.

New developments are either underway or on deck in Sidney with proposed commercial space that would be ideal for an expanded library branch, Wainwright said.

“One of the issues is we need to catch up on the size of the branch and we’ve been waiting a long, long time,” he said.

Sidney is better situated than the Panorama Recreation Centre, which is the other location being looked at for a new branch, Wainwright said.

North Saanich has already sent a letter to the VIRL board asking it to consider a smaller branch at Panorama to complement a larger branch in Sidney.

North Saanich Coun. Murray Weisenberger said his municipality is proposing a 4,000 to 6,000 sq. ft. branch. That would allow the Sidney branch to be as large as 12,000 sq. ft. to serve forecasted demographics.

“Our goal is to leave Sidney with lots of head room,” he said, adding that he understands why Sidney sees a new library as a way to help the downtown’s economy.

“I certainly have sympathy for that approach,” he said. “The problem I have with that is they’re not considering the users.”

Weisenberger said it’s easier for residents to find parking at Panorama and a library branch there would be convenient to all the families who already make regular use of the facility.

However, Wainwright said he doesn’t think two small branches can offer the same benefits as a larger one. Think about grocery stores, Wainwright said, noting that a larger store can house options that just aren’t feasible in a smaller store.

“Two small ones tend to offer a smaller range of services than a larger one could,” he said.

A conference call was planned for Monday between the CAOs of both municipalities and the executive director of the VIRL.

Any decision on a new library branch is ultimately up to the library board.

“If it turns out (Sidney and North Saanich) can’t agree, then that’s something the regional board would consider and they’d be looking for each of us to make our case,” Wainwright said.

For his part, Weisenberger said he doesn’t see the issue coming to a head.

“We get along well enough. I think we’ll solve these concerns,” he said.

The VIRL is holding public consultations at the SHOAL Centre in Sidney on July 7 and the municipal hall in North Saanich on July 8.

Both meetings begin at 6:30 p.m.

— by Jim Zeeben/News staff

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