Concerns over the potential cost of building and operating a new regional library in Sydney, N.S., may be put to rest this spring.
In November, Cape Breton Regional Municipality councillors voted in principle to contribute up to $7 million in land and cash toward a new library building on the waterfront.
The project cost has been estimated at between $18 million and $28 million.
Despite not having a final cost, council voted to begin applying for funding from other levels of government right away to access programs that might get frozen once the federal election cycle kicks in later this year.
Councillors said at the same time they support the need for a new library, they are concerned about the cost and how it might affect the municipality’s ability to fund other services.
This week, Coun. Amanda McDougall said with budget talks coming up and a number of competing priorities, including public expectations for routine spending, council is going to have to sharpen its pencil.
“We have so much on the go, which is excellent, and it’s such necessary development and projects in our communities, but we need to make sure we’re not taking away from the very limited funds we already have that are going towards our roads.
“We’ve got nothing for sidewalks, so how do we make sure we have something for sidewalks, but also incorporate these new projects.”
Cart before the horse?
Applying for capital funds for library construction without knowing the ultimate scope of the project might also be putting the cart before the horse, McDougall said.
“If we do this responsibly from the start and say, ‘OK, we have X amount of dollars that we can at this point afford in our budget for operational costs,’ then we have a better idea of what we’re applying for,” she said.
Neeta Kumar-Britten, chair of the Cape Breton regional library board, said it’s reasonable to look at operational costs first to determine the capital needs.
A new study will help determine those costs this spring, she said.
“Once we do that programs review, where we study what our current costs are versus what our would-be costs would be in a new facility, we’ll have a better opportunity to project what our actual costs would be of building and operating a new library,” Kumar-Britten said.
“That should do it for us. That should give us some idea of what it would cost to run a new facility and what kind of square footage we can afford.”
However, Kumar-Britten said, the cost should be considered an investment in the health of the community.
Studies show — and experiences in Halifax Regional Municipality and Truro demonstrate — that new libraries attract economic development around them and improve literacy rates, which affect mental health, addiction and crime rates, she said.
“When we think about cost, we also have to think about benefit,” said Kumar-Britten. “Not just financial benefit, but social benefit and benefit to our community as a whole.”