Library Outrage Alert: Changes to Baker Street Redevelopment Coming to Committee

After months of speculation and concern about the fate of the new main branch of the Guelph Public Library, the City of Guelph has announced that they’ve updated the plan which will hopefully allow for a more cost-effective version of the project to proceed. How are they going to do that? Exact details are forthcoming… in a couple of weeks.

In a media release sent out on Thursday, the City of Guelph announced that they have an “additional option” for the Baker District Redevelopment coming for council’s consideration, but exact details about the new option won’t be known until the release of October’s Committee of the Whole agenda on September 24.

“In the alternative option, City staff examine the impact of re-locating the library from the north tower residential complex into a free standing building on the south end of the site,” the release said. “This new alignment provides a simpler, overall site layout while allowing for the same amenities and programs planned for the original library space. There’s also the opportunity to move the institutional space to the north tower.”

The assumption appears to be that a standalone library structure, will be less complicated to integrate into the overall development and will result in cost savings to the library portion of the project, which was approved at $67 million last fall. According to a staff report last September, the overall Baker District project is expected to cost $125 million, which includes $19 million spent so far on environmental assessments, remediation work, archaeological explorations, demolition, and property acquisitions.

This news comes nearly a month after the announcement that Guelph would receive no infrastructure funding from the Federal government for the Baker Street project, which sparked concerns that the new main library was on the chopping block. Social media posts from critical members of council provoked long-time library proponents to start running defense for the project before a vote of council might pull the plug.

“The funding plan is in place. The project will proceed with no additional tax burden on citizens beyond what has been incorporated into the Baker Street Redevelopment Project from the beginning,” Virginia Gillham, chair of the Friends of the Guelph Public Library said in a recent newsletter. “There will be information coming to Council in early October. We will need your help and support to continue to move this important community project forward.”

Although the Guelph Public Library has presented a business case and supporting documents for the new main library project, there have been repeated concerns voiced by some members of council about the expense. Last September, it was the quartet of Mayor Cam Guthrie and Councillors Dan Gibson, Bob Bell, and Mark MacKinnon that voted against the new budget and project scope, but at least one of those votes is open minded about proceeding with the project in a different shape.

“There’s a lot of shades of grey in there,” MacKinnon said last month on Open Sources Guelph about the all or nothing proposition of the $67 million main library.

“I was dead set against making a decision at the time because we didn’t have information about what was happening with the government grants, which was vital, but we also didn’t have information about the new form of Development Charges in the Community Benefits,” MacKinnon explained. “As I’ve mentioned before, there’s nothing that I consider untouchable regarding the city budget, and now that we have to reassess our information, I think we need to take another look.”

At the August 24 meeting, council discussed Baker District Redevelopment in closed session, which continued after the business of the open session was concluded. Mayor Guthrie reported that direction was given to staff with the expectation that council would be receiving information back, and he added that council is looking forward to it.

The Committee of the Whole meeting is on October 5 at 2 pm, and the agenda and staff reports will be released in the afternoon of Thursday September 24.

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