Library board mulls private partnership to build new central branch

The Ottawa Public Library's board of directors voted in favour on Monday of looking for a private partner to build a new central library branch.

New main branch could move from current location

The Ottawa Public Library's board of directors voted to investigate the possibility of partnering with the private sector to build a new central library branch. ((Rebecca Zandbergen/CBC))
At a meeting on Monday night, the Ottawa Public Library's board of directors voted in favour of looking for a private partner to build a new central library branch.

The 40-year-old building at the corner of Laurier Avenue and Metcalfe Street is in need of upgrades, and a Toronto architecture firm gave the city three different renovation options.

But they carry a price tag ranging from $40 to $70 million.

"I can tell you, we do not have the money today to do any of those three options," said board chair Coun. Jan Harder.

"What's out there that would make financial sense and also offer the library of the future services to the people ... in the urban area, near transit? That's where we've invested as a city to some great degree."

Interested parties already inquiring, Harder says

Harder said a new library, potentially in a new location, could share space with an upstairs tenant, and that she's already received several calls from potential investors.

About 16,000 people walk through the main branch's front doors each week, and are greeted with an out-of-date facility that doesn't have smartphone or Wi-Fi reception in most areas.

Elaine Condos, a division manager with Ottawa Public Library, said the central library should be modern and inviting. 

"The building was built at a time when there were no computers. It was built more as a warehouse for books ... And the building as it is now can't support the delivery of modern library services," Condos said.

Staff are expected to submit their report on a public-private partnership to the city's library board sometime in 2015.

MPP suggests move out of downtown core

Ottawa Centre MPP Yasir Naqvi said in a letter to the editor in the Ottawa Citizen Monday he's suggesting Bayview Yards as a potential location for the new main branch.

"It's located at a great place right next to the Ottawa River, this is where our Confederation (LRT) line is going to meet the O-Train so it will be quite accessible by public transit for the entire city," Naqvi said Tuesday.

"Not to mention Bayview Yards is land owned by the city."

Naqvi said he prefers a "central" location rather than a "downtown" location for the main branch, saying it should be a focal point for the entire city.

Lauren Rock, acting president of the Centretown Community Association, said it would be sad to see the main branch move out of her neighbourhood, likening it to the loss of the World Exchange Plaza theatre last year.

"We think this is the exact opposite of what we need," she said.

"Right at the time when all sorts of condos are going up in our community… we are at the same time hollowing out the social capital facilities that we desperately need to keep it a vibrant community."

Rock said the association isn't opposed to moving the central branch, but feels community assets should remain in the downtown core as a place where everyone can come and learn.

Poll question

On mobile? Click here to vote on the idea of a private partnership for the main branch.