With the current library building being virtually inaccessible to those with physical disabilities and mobility issues, combined with insufficient space and continued issues with the structure itself, Meaford's council continues to explore options for a location of a new library.
At their March 13 meeting council was updated on the potential for converting a municipally owned building at 390 Sykes Street into a library. The building currently houses Meaford's OPP detachment along with a commercial tenant who has roughly three years remaining on their lease.
A staff report presented at the meeting outlined two possible design options for the 390 Sykes Street location. One of those options would involve a simple renovation of the current available space at the facility which would provide 6,000 square feet of useable, programmable space at a cost of roughly $1.6 million, while a second option would include an addition to the building which would bring the total programmable space to 10,000 square feet, closer to the previously stated goal of 11,000 square feet, but the cost would be significantly more at roughly $3.9 million.
Staff asked council to approve a recommendation to explore a third design option for the property that would include 8,000 square feet of programmable space noting that with the service agreement with the Owen Sound & North Grey Union Public Library for Sydenham residents (open to all Meaford residents as of January of this year), an 11,000 square foot facility would over-service the community, while 6,000 square feet would provide just slightly more than the 4,718 square feet available at the current library building. The cost for a consultant to prepare a third design option for 390 Sykes street will be $15,300.
Council approved the recommendation to explore the third design option, however not all members of council are fully supportive of converting the 390 Sykes Street building into a library noting what some have suggested is an inconvenient location. Deputy Mayor Harley Greenfield asked staff if the former Foodland grocery store building at the corner of Sykes and Trowbridge has been given serious consideration as a potential library location. The building has remained empty since the closure of the grocery outlet last summer, and is currently on the market for lease or sale.
“Back six months ago, and I don't want to flog a dead horse, I suggested the property on the south-east corner of Sykes and Trowbridge Street would be an ideal location for a library. I still have that opinion,” noted Greenfield. “We talk about libraries being a community hub. Our library is already a community hub. We've talked many times about a vibrant downtown core. That's a little questionable right now. I really think council should still while there's time, take a look at the Foodland property.”
Meaford Treasurer Darcy Chapman told council that the former Foodland property had been considered as a potential library location however after personally meeting with the owner of the property, Chapman said that the property is an unlikely location for a future library.
“I actually have toured the facility. I did so back in early October, and I've had a couple meetings with the owner as well. At the end of the day, the owner would prefer to lease, but would be willing to sell, and neither of the options available make financial sense for the Municipality of Meaford given the price points that the owner is at,” Chapman told council. “Not to say that the owner is asking too much for either a lease or a purchase, but simply asking too much for the available options that we have sitting in front of us right now.”
Chapman noted that unlike private sector businesses, there are no tax benefits to leasing as municipalities can't write off those sorts of expenses, and purchasing the property would be an additional cost before renovating the building to accommodate a library, while the 390 Sykes Street building is already owned by the municipality.
“I would caution the viability of that building for our purposes, but not for other purposes,” Chapman told council.
Chapman noted that there would be no way to purchase the 60 year old building and renovate it to accommodate a library at a lower cost than using a building already owned by the municipality. He also reminded council that municipalities are subject to legislation that the private sector is not.
“One of the biggest problems I see is the price that the owner is willing to accept, versus the price that we are able through legislation to pay, because when we sell property to somebody, it has to be appraised, and we are not supposed to sell it for less than the appraisal. If we're going to buy property from somebody, it has to be appraised, and we're not supposed to be buying it for more than the appraisal. And I have serious questions about an appraisal coming back anywhere close to the value the owner wants for the building,” Chapman explained. “Not that it's not worth it to a commercial enterprise, but our hands are tied. We operate differently than the private sector.”
Staff will report back to council after the third design option for the 390 Sykes Street building has been prepared.