By Doug Hallett
Over the objections of some councillors, city council approved spending $3.7 million in 2013 to move towards completing the assembly of land for a proposed new main library on upper Wyndham Street.
The $3.7 million is part of a $51.5-million capital budget for 2013 that was approved last Wednesday when council also approved its tax-supported operating budget for the coming year.
Coun. Bob Bell proposed that council remove the $3.7-million item and use the money instead for “active transportation” projects, such as sidewalks and cycling lanes. He said that if less land is bought for a new main library, he’d be happy to see this lead to the building of a new library that’s smaller than the 90,000-sq.-ft. facility currently proposed.
Coun. Karl Wettstein said delaying the purchase of final land for the library would send a message that city hall is “not serious” about the library project, which is linked to the city’s plans for redevelopment of the Baker Street Parking Lot.
If the city doesn’t keep moving forward with the Baker Street redevelopment, “we are going to lose a lot of interest and a lot of credibility,” Wettstein said.
Councillors Maggie Laidlaw and Lise Burcher said the city needs to be ready to take advantage of any future federal infrastructure-stimulus program.
Finishing land assembly for a new main library will help get the library project closer to the shovel-ready stage where money from higher levels of government might be used for the project, they said.
With help from an international consulting firm hired by the city last summer, city hall staff have been working on a detailed business case for Baker Street redevelopment. It’s expected to go to council during the first quarter of 2013.
Bell’s motion to remove the $3.7-million land-purchase item from the 2013 capital budget was defeated 8-5. Voting with Bell were councilllors Jim Furfaro, Cam Guthrie, Gloria Kovach and Andy Van Hellemond.
Bell and some other councillors also wanted the city to put more priority on building a continuous network of sidewalks along Woodlawn Road between Elmira and Nicklin roads, which has few sidewalks now.
This project, estimated to cost $1.2 million, isn’t currently in the city’s 10-year capital forecast.
Council agreed to take a closer look at the city’s spending on active transportation. However, two motions that would have directed funds towards building sidewalks on Woodlawn were both defeated on 7-6 votes.
“There are so many projects, and Woodlawn is just one,” said Coun. Leanne Piper.
Bell fumed that the city’s “corporate position is hollow” when it comes to encouraging active transportation.
Also included in the city’s 2013 capital budget is $150,000 to prepare Eastview Park, on the site of the former Eastview landfill, for development in 2014.
By Doug Hallett