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Plans moving ahead towards new North Perth Community Hub at Listowel Library site

Pending the success of a sizeable government grant application, the Listowel branch of the North Perth Public Library could be rebuilt to also accommodate the North Perth Community Hub, a consolidated facility to house 12 different local social service agencies. Dan McNee Photo

NORTH PERTH – It appears as though the United Way’s North Perth Community Committee (NPCC), North Perth Public Library Board and municipality have found common ground on a multi-million-dollar project that would implement a long sought-after social services community hub into Listowel’s downtown.

All that is needed now is the funding, and council’s final approval of the funding application.

Representatives from the United Way Perth-Huron and a number of invested parties from many other regional social service agencies joined North Perth Public Library CEO Rebecca Dechert Sage at the North Perth council chambers on Oct. 28, asking council to support a recommendation that would see a joint federal and provincial grant application submitted through the Investing in Canada Infrastructure Program (ICIP). If successful, the ICIP grant would fund 73.33 per cent (40 per cent federally, 33.33 per cent provincially) of the initially-estimated $9.11 million project that would transform the current Listowel Library site into a combined library-community hub – a facility to house 12 different regional agencies under one roof. The remaining estimated $2.4 million would be funded through the municipality’s library reserves and United Way fundraising campaigns.

“When we looked at access to services in a rural community such as ours, we realized that a community service hub would be an amazing project for us,” NPCC chair Shelley Blackmore told council. “So this is five years in the making.”

Under the plan proposed by the involved parties, the drastic renovation would ultimately see the 1999 library addition demolished to make way for a new 22,700-square foot, two-storey structure, with the option of adding a third storey in the future if required. Initial drawings and cost estimates of the North Perth Community Hub and Listowel Library, funded by a $10,000 100 Women Who Care North Perth grant, would see the Carnegie building portion of the library remain intact, and the new structure built around it.

“We really decided that a library already is a community hub, and the library needs some renovation happening here,” said Blackmore. “We have determined as a committee that it should be in conjunction with the library.”

Dechert Sage said that a builder with library and heritage experience was contracted to draft architectural plans, and multiple options were explored.

“Retaining the Carnegie building, and staying on the Listowel Library site were prioritized during the process, as well as preserving as much parking as possible,” she said, later adding that Rotary Millennium Park and the memorial dedicated to those killed in the Listowel Memorial Arena collapse of 1959 fronting the library would not be affected in the build.

The ground floor of the plan dedicates 10,000-square feet to the new library space. The Salvation Army Food Bank would also be housed on the ground floor, along with a lobby, offices and shared reception area between the library and the community hub. The Carnegie building was earmarked for a café space and community kitchen.

The proposed fully-accessible building features a full-service elevator with access to the second floor, which houses the community hub. Among the agencies included is the Perth District Health Unit, Family Services Perth-Huron and Big Brothers Big Sisters of Listowel and District. To date, 12 different agencies have signed on to utilize space in the hub.

A memorial garden would be included along Livingstone Avenue South, with 43 parking spaces left available to the south side of the building.

“This project would solve a lot of issues with the physical condition of our facility, but to me the project does something much more important than just that,” said Dechert Sage. “Although this floor plan shows us with over 10,000-square feet of dedicated library space, actually I feel that every square foot of space in this 22,700-square foot facility serves the mission statement of the North Perth Public Library, which is to connect people.”

After details of the plan were laid out, attention quickly turned to the condition of the Carnegie Library building, first opened to the public in 1907. Coun. Dave Johnston asked Dechert Sage if the cost estimate would change if the Carnegie building was kept in the façade or demolished completely. She said that it would, with CAO Kriss Snell preliminarily estimating it would cost another $400,000 to put part of the new building up on its site, based on the contracted architect’s number projections.

“I’m not sure that heritage is necessarily a big piece of the grant,” said Dechert Sage. “We kept the Carnegie Library in just based on some community sentiment that we had. I know the interior of the library is also a piece that our community is quite attached to as well.”

Coun. Julie Behrns was in favour of removing the Carnegie building from the equation, but also finding a way of preserving its heritage.

“We’ve known that this project has been coming for some time,” she said. “I for one think you really have to consider doing whatever you can to preserve the heritage, but in a new building. I really don’t think we can keep taking taxpayers’ dollars and investing it in the Carnegie Library. There’s other methods that we can preserve the history without preserving the library. I would be in favour of demolition and starting everything fresh.”

Sage explained that a variance in the cost estimate wouldn’t affect the ICIP grant, which could only potentially add more stipulations to the process if North Perth’s proposal surpassed $10 million. Council directed Dechert Sage and the parties involved with the project to have the architects factor in the Carnegie removal estimates, and bring some revised dollar options back to its meeting on Nov. 4 ahead of the Nov. 12 ICIP grant application deadline.

Mayor Todd Kasenberg addressed council before the vote to support the recommendation to proceed with the grant application was put to question.

“I want to point out to council before the vote, that our citizens are going to expect some explanation before this moves forward, given that part of the proposition is the removal of a 1999 library,” he said. “Some effort has been made towards that, there is loosely a communication plan that, with your indulgence, we will roll out. This has lightning rod potential in some ways to stir up emotions, both positive and negative, with what we’re doing here.”

The vote to proceed with the ICIP grant application was unanimous and carried, with final details of the application still to come. Projects awarded ICIP funding are expected to be announced sometime in 2020, with a requirement from ICIP that all projects funded by it are completed by 2027.

“It’s very exciting,” said Blackmore following the decision. “So many people have been behind this project and worked hard. Lots of volunteer hours, and just getting people excited about it. Anybody you talk to is supportive of a hub idea. Through this whole process, we found out that the library was already functioning as a hub without the support. They have been struggling with a building that just wasn’t workable anymore. I think people are looking forward, and I’m really impressed that council is behind us. They have been really supportive, and really been with us all the way along.”