StephenVance 540The former Foodland grocery store property on the corner of Sykes and Trowbridge Streets offers high traffic, high visibility, and easy access – everything you'd want in a prime commercial property. Many in the community have expressed their view that the property would also make a fine location for a new library, and council is listening and have directed staff to explore that potential. That's a good thing, but don't get your hopes up just yet, there's a long way to go.

There's no question that the former Foodland grocery store location would be ideal for a public library, but whether it's even a possibility remains to be seen. Late last month council approved the spending of $32,500 to hire a consultant to find out.

I've heard and read that some take the leap, from council approving exploration of the property as a potential site for a library to it being a done deal, but before we get ahead of ourselves, let's understand what we know, and what we don't yet know.

Here's what we know:

  • The building has been empty for nearly a year after the closure of the Foodland grocery store.

  • The property owner doesn't want to sell the property just yet, according to Meaford's treasurer, but he is open to negotiating a ten-year lease at a cost estimated by the treasurer of roughly $1.2 million over the ten years, followed by a purchase estimated at roughly $1.5 million for a total cost of roughly $2.7 million before any renovations to the building.

  • The property owner has indicated that some of the renovation costs could be covered by the lease payments, but how much is unknown and has yet to be negotiated.

  • There has been significant support expressed by the community for the property to become the future home of the library.

So it's early yet, but it looks promising.

Now here's what we don't yet know:

  • Is the building structurally sound and suitable for conversion into a public library?

  • If so, how much will it cost to renovate the building and convert it into a library?

  • How much of the estimated renovation cost will be covered by the property owner, and how much would the municipality need to fund?

  • Can a deal be negotiated with the property owner for renovations to the building, a ten-year lease of the property, followed by a purchase of the property?

The study by the consultants will answer some of those questions. The facility condition assessment will tell us if the building is structurally sound and adequate for conversion to a library, and it will also give us an idea of the estimated cost to do so. The rest of the answers will depend on negotiations between the municipality and the property owner.

In short, there's a long road to travel before we know much of anything. The treasurer told council that he expects the facility condition analysis, design options, and costing to take the consultants roughly ten weeks to complete, so we likely won't know much more until sometime in September.

While I acknowledge the reasons given by those in the community and on council in support of the property being an excellent location for a library, I've previously expressed that I'm personally not so sure, but I would love to be proven wrong. One of my concerns is taking a prime commercial property and forever forfeiting the potential for a business to move in, creating new jobs, not to mention property taxes. Moving a library into that commercial space will not create any badly needed new jobs, and libraries don't pay property taxes.

That said, the community seems to be speaking loudly their desire for the library to be there, and I'm a firm believer in the concept that the majority rules. So if the community is comfortable with taking commercial space (arguably currently the most prime piece of commercial real estate in the community) that with a new commercial tenant could create jobs, and instead have the municipality lease then purchase the property for use as a new library, then the community has spoken, and that's the path council should take.

While it's possible I can be convinced once the study is complete that the former Foodland property would make a good location for a badly needed new library, I'm not alone in my cautious approach to the issue. I'll share a comment made to me about the property over the weekend by a resident who is moving away from Meaford later this month to take a job that they'd have preferred to have been able to find at home in Meaford: “It's amazing how much time and money council is willing to spend now to turn the building into a library. Imagine if we'd seen that much effort trying to find a business to move in there bringing us jobs.”

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