As North Saanich considers the future of library services in the municipality, one councillor called for a speedy resolution to the issue.
“It’s not an emergency, but I do feel there is some urgency for us to keep the foot on the gas on this one moving forward, because we have been at this for so long,” said Coun. Heather Gartshore last week. She made that comment as council held a special committee of the whole meeting to review the municipality’s strategic plan of 2020 and help prepare the strategic plan for 2021. That plan will now include a review of library services.
While the subject has been on the municipality’s broader agenda for several years, it gained additional urgency earlier this month when the Agricultural Land Commission approved an exclusion request from the district for a portion of the land on which the Panorama Recreation Centre sits.
The municipality had previously identified the excluded property as the site for a new library designed to improve library services in the municipality. While North Saanich shares the Sidney location of the Vancouver Island Regional Library (VIRL) system with the Town of Sidney, VIRL considers the municipality under-served.
Perhaps the most concrete expression of this fact is VIRL’s long-standing promise to fund construction of a new library at that location. Last week’s announcement clears a major hurdle for the realization of that project with the important addendum that North Saanich has also contemplated other uses for the site.
But as with any large project sitting on the drawing board for some time, circumstances change, starting with concerns that the municipality might not be getting full value for its membership in VIRL, a question now undergoing additional study after council tasked staff to review not only the current concept for a new VIRL facility but also discuss VIRL services compared to those offered by the Greater Victoria Public Library (GVPL).
Coun. Jack McClintock, council’s liaison with VIRL, warned that any delays to VIRL’s offer may end up costing North Saanich by dropping down on VIRL’s priority list, a scenario that also exists should North Saanich join GVPL. He also warned of potential service disruptions in case of a change. Garthshore and Coun. Celia Stock echoed the concerns of McClintock, who will meet with VIRL officials in February.
But if Garthshore and others urged timely action, while calling for additional public consultation, the public also heard from Coun. Murray Weisenberger, who argued that the real urgency lies “in getting value for our dollars.”
North Saanich’s application to the ALC revealed some support but also considerable opposition to the proposed library.
Coun. Patricia Pearson, meanwhile, raised the possibility of creating additional child care space at the location.
Finally, North Saanich has to consider developments in Sidney, which pushed its own review of library services into the fourth quarter of 2022. Weisenberger said his preference is for a satellite facility in North Saanich and an expanded facility in Sidney. Gartshore acknowledged North Saanich’s partnership with Sidney, but also noted North Saanich does not necessarily have to wait on its neighbour.
Mayor Geoff Orr said during the discussion that “nothing has been determined yet,” having said earlier that any decision about leaving the VIRL would trigger a referendum followed by a transition period.
“The earliest I believe would still be January 2023, if we were do something,” he said. Sidney, if it were to depart VIRL, could follow in 2024, he said.
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