We Can't Afford NOT To Build a New Main Library

September 27, 2020

Library Concept 

Here we are again.  In the course of its 25-year history, the path to a new main branch library is at yet another crossroads.  On October 5, Council will be faced with another pivot point in our long journey.  We will consider two new directions:  first, to build a standalone structure, and second to relocate the library to the southern portion of the Baker Street development site.  Both of these new directions come with the full support of city staff and the Guelph Public Library (GPL) Board.  It seems like a slam dunk, for all the right reasons – lower building costs and retention of ownership.  And yet, some sectors of the community still seem to be focused on whether we should build a library at all.


Let me put that question to rest.  Yes.


Council has committed and confirmed that we need a new main library with a minimum of 88,000 sq ft. and that it will be located within the Baker Street site.  Need, not want. Council approved the size and a $67 million pricetag last year.  After the vote was taken, Mayor Cam Guthrie said, “I am now the spokesperson and the champion for that decision and I am now going to champion this project moving forward,” This is the kind of working-together attitude we need to see this project move forward -- because we cannot afford to NOT build a library.  The most vulnerable members of our community – those most affected by COVID-19 – are the ones who need the new main branch library the most. 


Let’s take a look at the real cost of delays.  The new main branch library project has been derailed and deferred so many times and every time its cost continues to grow.  We cannot afford to let this happen again. Now is the time to be truly accountable, which means it is time to "fish or cut bait."  The estimated cost for building the library over the 25-year history is as follows: * 


  • 1995 - $10.5 million
  • 1998 - $14.4 million
  • 2004 - $17 million
  • 2007 - $33 million
  • 2014 - $49 million
  • 2019 - $67 million
  • 2020 - $62 million


Lets be clear. Delays cost money.


And yet, there are people who are again questioning the size, cost and timing of building such a significant piece of public infrastructure.  Over the past 40 years, not a single Guelph citizen has paid a penny towards building the current main library building.  Our grandparents paid for it.  Now it's our turn.  What is the impact on the average household in terms of additional taxation? According to our Finance staff, the impact on an average home assessed at approx. $388K, will be less than $15 per year per household for 20 years.  That’s per household, not per person.  Two cups of take-out coffee per person, per year.


We need the library now more than ever.  Online resources, access to librarians, outdoor civic space, indoor space for public services and programs, and more.  The new library will be pandemic-proof.  In fact, a global pandemic is the perfect time to invest in civic institutions to help kickstart our local economy.


Last week, Council debated for 4 ½ hours about keeping the Dining District open for 60 more days to help a small group of downtown businesses recover and thrive.  And yet, the single most important decision we can make as civic leaders to support the downtown, invest in economic recovery city-wide, and leverage public investment for increased tax revenue (from the new assessment that Baker District development will generate) is to build the library!  We have research and evidence to support the fact that a main library is a significant catalyst to the local economy.


The decision on October 5 to move the location to the south end of the site and to build a standalone city-owned structure is an easy one.  Yes, there is detailed design work ahead.  I expect, like many of you, that the new library will be a major civic anchor. The Business Plan for the library lists, as the top two desired business outcomes:


  • Architectural excellence within the Guelph downtown consistent with the objectives and targets of the City’s downtown secondary plan
  • A community hub with space for all citizens with specific emphasis on increasing services to children and young adults


We cannot lose sight of these goals. 


It will come as no surprise to those reading this that I have been a long-time supporter of the main branch library project.  Nothing new there.  I have been patient, like many of you.  We have waited for all the studies, the right location, the right development partner, the perfect economic conditions, all the ducks in a row to put the shovel in the ground. This is it.  If we can’t move this project forward on October 5, we have failed our community. We have failed as your elected leaders. We have failed the children who – 25 years later – are taking their own children to the same outdated, too-small, inaccessible library. 


This is our time. Let’s get it done.



* Source: https://www.guelphpl.ca/en/about-us/resources/Documents/The-Path-Towards-The-New-Main-Library-Final.pdf