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Residents express support for future Paris library project

CouncilResidents express support for future Paris library project

Paris and area residents expressed their support for the upcoming Bawcutt Centre library project during a special County of Brant Council meeting on Thursday, February 1, 2024.

Well over 30 people attended the meeting after Councillor John Bell moved a notice of motion to reconsider council’s original decision to move forward with the project during their regular council meeting on Tuesday, January 30, 2024.

On June 27, 2023, the County of Brant councillors had voted to approve the following motion:

“That the concept design for the Main Library and Bawcutt Centre be approved;

That this project be approved for construction, subject to site plan and zoning applications;

That staff be directed to authorize Collaborative Structures Limited (CSL) to issue requests for tender for the construction of the Main Library and Bawcutt Centre to prequalified contractors;

That $13,489,000 be included in the 2024 Capital Budget, with funding components from reserves, development charges, debt to be repaid by development charges and debenture as funding sources;

That the Steering Group transition to Fundraising Committee and begin fundraising efforts;

And that staff be directed to investigate parking opportunities on adjacent streets and present designs for Council consideration.”

During the June meeting, each clause was voted on separately and packaged as a whole.

The current status of the Bawcutt Centre demolition is pictured on Thursday, February 1, 2024.

Typically, when a notice of motion to reconsider is brought up, no discussion or debate on the topic is allowed to happen, however on Tuesday, David Bailey, Mayor for the County of Brant, allowed Bell the opportunity to speak about what “prompted him to put it on the agenda” before his motion was officially brought forward.

“Let me say I love the concept for this new main branch library, including the renovation of the Bawcutt Centre, but I’ve always worried about its affordability and the prioritization of this project over other calls for our County funding. Since June 2023, when council by a majority vote, agreed to a six-point motion, we’ve been confronted with the most challenging budget in council memory,” said Bell. “…With a potential for a ten to 13 per cent property tax increase this year and the prospect of large increases in coming years. We’re also reaching debt level limits, which are primarily driven by funding large capital projects, such as the proposed new library,” said Bell. “Staff have prepared a draft of a long-term financial plan that further questions affordability, and that draft does not yet include all the calls on the municipality, which will further compound our financial challenges.”

Councillor Robert Chambers, called for a point of order (an intervention by a member who believes that the rules or customary procedures of the council chambers has been incorrectly applied or overlooked during the proceedings) twice before Bell could finish, however Bailey allowed Bell to finish.

“I believe it’s in the best interest of our community, and particularly its taxpayers, to step back and reconsider the approval to construct a new main branch library in the light of growing financial challenges,” said Bell.

Residents chat about their library win during a special council meeting on Thursday, February 1, 2024.

During Thursday’s special council meeting, seven delegations had the opportunity to either express their support for the new library project, or to support the council’s decision to reconsider.

Both James Cairns and Alison Fishburn, Paris residents, also inquired why the meeting was held on such short notice and on a Thursday afternoon while people were at work, and Councillor David Miller asked the Clerk to explain why it was scheduled that way.

“It was because today was the final scheduled day of budget deliberations,” said Alysha Dyjach, Clerk and Director of Council Services. “Budget was scheduled to be approved on the 27th and therefore this would institute a change that we didn’t want to have to worry about coming up against that, or delaying the budget should that be proceeding on the 27th.”

While there are estimates regarding the project, many spoke about their concerns of halting the project before knowing official costs.

Kathryn Carter, a member of the Bawcutt Centre Advisory Committee, also had her chance to speak and touched on the idea of halting the project before official estimates come in.

“I think the idea is that we’re going to halt this project until budgets get more clarified, …but at that future date, any costs for renovating or thinking about what to do with this building, will certainly be higher and the demands on the infrastructure for this community will just continue to grow,” she said. “…If it remains a publicly owned facility with a partnership with the library, the beneficial impact will persist for generations. However, we’re not talking about capital investment because we don’t have any information about actual costs. Furthermore, members of the Bawcutt Advisory Group and the library board have been hampered from actively fundraising for this project because there’s no clear path forward. The motion today signals another step backwards away from clarity about the will of the council and away from any clarity that might help anyone, council or community members, make informed decisions about what are the correct next steps.”

Barbara Graham, one of Jack and Joyce Bawcutt (who is a centenarian) daughters, stepped up to the podium to speak about the motion.

“In 2015 our family donated to the Bawcutt Centre as a tribute to our father and mother’s legacy within this community. It recognizes their long-standing public service to Brant County and their ongoing commitment to this community. Before my dad passed away, he and my mother were presented with the potential of the joint venture between the Bawcutt Centre and the Brant County Library, and they were both really excited about this joint venture,” she said. “It would be a project that would enable the construction of a facility to be accessible to every citizen of Brant County. This is a project, where a beautifully restored heritage building will be able to be enjoyed and admired daily by all. …This is a project that respects the rich architectural history of our County and looks to the future with a modern vision.”

Valerie Stone-Grech and Sheldon Grech, Paris residents, on the other hand, saw the benefits of a new main branch library for the County, but the two expressed their appreciation for fiscal responsibility and showed support for Bell’s motion.

Sheldon, who has a construction background, spoke about the budget aspects.

“I really support a new library, absolutely, 100 per cent. What I was seeing and learning from listening to everyone today, is that there are sort of two concerns. One concern is that with going back on this motion, there’s a potential loss of the library project itself and then on the other hand there is a potential loss of the building, but I don’t see that,” he said. “…I know that in the construction business, if they’re saying upwards of $30 million or upwards of $40 million, you have to expect a lot more. …All I’m asking today is that we look at revisiting this for the purpose of redefining and giving more detail in what it is that we would like to see happen.”

Fred Gladding, Bosch Chair of the County of Brant Library, speaks about the challenges of providing 21st century library services during a special council meeting on Thursday, February 1, 2024.

Next, Fred Gladding, Board Chair of the County of Brant Library and Marilyn Sewell, Vice Chair of the County of Brant Library, expressed both their appreciation for council, as well as their support for the project.

“Our library was designed at the turn of the century, and it’s designed to give a library service from the late Victorian era. We love that the community loves it and it’s a tribute to our staff … but it is inadequate,” he said. “…I want to remind you that this [current library] building sits on a hill and it creates some significant accessibility issues for some of the citizens of the County of Brant and we are committed to keeping our building accessible. … In 1903 people did come to the library and stayed for about 15 minutes to pick out a couple of books and leave, but that’s not how people use the library today. People have many more expectations, and they have many more demands for programming. With cell phones, Amazon and information technologies it has not diminished the demand for library service, on the contrary it has only grown.”

While many delegations expressed their fears for the cancellation of the project, councillors were sure to clarify that reconsidering the project does not mean canceling it, but putting it off to discuss at a later date.

“I’m a little disappointed with the comments because other people, who may be not so close to it, tell us how great the library system is but this motion is not to cancel the project,” said Councillor David Miller. “ It’s not about not getting the new library, everybody around here supports a new library. I think that has to be corrected, we support a new library, we just want to do it in a fiscally responsible way.”

With no other discussions held by council, the motion was defeated with five councillors voting against it, noting that Councillors Christine Garneau, Jennifer Kyle, Brian Coleman, John Bell, David Miller voting in favour to reconsider the decision.

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