CBRM considering Old Courthouse as new central library option

SYDNEY, NS — The old Cape Breton County Courthouse near Wentworth Park is being considered as a potential option for a new central library in the Cape Breton Regional Municipality, according to a councilman.

“I heard that (this) location has been identified as a possibility,” confirmed Lisa Mulak, regional librarian at the Cape Breton Regional Library. “It’s not like a rumor, it’s pretty solid as an option.”

Before CBRM finally approves its 2022-23 budget at City Hall, District 5 Coun. Eldon MacDonald dropped mention of the building at 70 Crescent St., now called Wentworth Court, as he inquired with Executive Director Marie Walsh about what portion of CBRM funding should be borrowed and put to use to build a new library.

CBRM will spend some of this money from the $15 million municipal capacity grant top-up, but the amount has been reduced from $3 million to $1 million to allow for the inclusion of a lower rate of 5% taxation and low income property tax exemption. The rest, according to Walsh and CFO Jennifer Campbell, will be funded by “proceeds from borrowing and/or land sales in future years.”

MacDonald on Tuesday referred to a “recent discussion we had with the library – and I know the mayor was out of town at the time – with the consultants we had come to see at the courthouse, (a consultant) estimated that we were at least $16 million and $18 million (for a library). That’s at least $600 a square foot…”

CBRM District 5 County.  Eldon MacDonald:
CBRM District 5 County. Eldon MacDonald: “(We had) a recent discussion that we had with the library — and I know the mayor was away at the time — with the consultants we had come to see at the courthouse…” IAN NATHANSON /CAPE BRETON POST – Ian Nathanson

“NO DECISION TAKEN”

The mention of the location of the courthouse immediately prompted Mayor Amanda McDougall to jump into Tuesday’s discussion.

“For the sake of clarity, there has been no decision made by this council to move forward with a library option,” she said.

But as advisers Cyril MacDonald and Darren Bruckschwaiger deepened discussions about funding the library, McDougall quickly relented and revealed the plans CBRM was exploring.

“The engineers who worked on the Truro library were asked to look at the viability of the courthouse because – as all council members know and we have all been brought to meetings about it – it is something something we want to explore as a possibility,” the mayor said. “There (was) no secret meeting or anything of that nature.”

CBRM Mayor Amanda McDougall:
Amanda McDougall, Mayor of CBRM: “There (was) no secret meeting or anything of that nature.” IAN NATHANSON/CAPE BRETON POST – Ian Nathanson

UPCOMING PUBLIC CONSULTATIONS

Tenants currently occupying the Wentworth Court building include the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency and Veterans Affairs Canada.

“We know that (the building) belongs to the federal government. And the anticipation is that, in the next few years, they’re going to offload that anyway,” McDougall said.

“Once all the options have been reviewed by our staff and the elements of viability are there, we will present it to the public. But the only thing we are talking about right now is investing money in this project in the future. We have no details on the status of this project as we have not yet communicated with the public.

Books.  Photo by Brett Jordan/Unsplash - Contribution
Books. Photo by Brett Jordan/Unsplash – Contribution

DECADE OF DISCUSSIONS, PLANS

Discussions about replacing the James McConnell Memorial Library have been going on for at least a decade, which included visions of a 45,000 square foot library along the waterfront. But that vision proved too costly and any further exploration, MacDonald said, is no longer taking place.

“Let’s go,” he said. “The mayor mentioned renovating the McConnell as another option. And maybe the community has ideas besides those two.

Lisa Mulak, Regional Librarian at the Cape Breton Regional Library:
Lisa Mulak, Regional Librarian at the Cape Breton Regional Library: “I think there’s potential for more space,” Mulak said. And who can say what will happen in the years to come? » IAN NATHANSON/CAPE BRETON POST – Ian Nathanson

MCCONNELL NEEDLESS RETROFIT

At 22,000 square feet, the 62-year-old McConnell Library has exceeded its goal, Mulak said, and any attempts to renovate or expand its current location would, she says, be futile.

“You would have to consider expropriating the property to really get the footprint we would need,” Mulak said, referring to a 2011 study of what was needed to upgrade the current building.

If keeping the library at 50 Falmouth Street is considered an option, Mulak said that would really mean “bringing it down and rebuilding it”.

The James McConnell Memorial Library in Sydney serves as the headquarters of the Cape Breton Regional Library.  DAVID JALA • CAPE BRETON POST - David Jala
The James McConnell Memorial Library in Sydney serves as the headquarters of the Cape Breton Regional Library. DAVID JALA • CAPE BRETON POST – David Jala

POTENTIAL OF COURTHOUSES

The idea of ​​the courthouse location appealed to Mulak, although she said that at 33,000 square feet, it’s still “a bit smaller than what we would need.

“We’re looking at something in the 40,000 to 45,000 square foot range,” Mulak said, referencing a November 2020 study submitted to the CBRM looking at everything from accessibility, square footage, building costs. exploitation to the incorporation of design elements respecting the indigenous culture in Cape Town. Breton.

Mulak also said that while the location of the old courthouse would place a library on the fringes of downtown, the building has its advantages: better accessibility, more space to park, and having the park nearby. .

“I think there’s potential to add to the space,” Mulak said. “And who can say what will happen in the years to come? The NSCC campus is coming up and our downtown will probably grow.


– Ian Nathanson is a multimedia journalist at the Cape Breton Post. Follow him on Twitter @CBPost_Ian.


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