Nova Scotia

CBRM hopes to kickstart proposed Sydney library as costs climb

A consultant's report shows the estimated cost of a proposed new library for Sydney has climbed to roughly $32 million. Cape Breton regional councillors are hoping to start discussions with potential funders, but CBRM's top administrator says increased operating costs will be a challenge.

Recent study shows capital costs now at $32 million, operating costs will be $244,000 more each year

Cape Breton regional councillors are seeking funding partners for a proposed new library in Sydney as soon as possible as capital and operating costs keep climbing. (CBRM Sydney Public Library Feasibility Study)

Cape Breton regional councillors are hoping the latest study on the potential cost of a proposed new library for downtown Sydney will kickstart the nine-year-old project.

The report from TCI Management Consultants was received Tuesday by CBRM council and shows the estimated capital cost has climbed by $4 million from the last estimate to roughly $32 million.

Deputy mayor Earlene MacMullin expressed frustration with delays in the project that keep driving up the price tag as the cost of goods and services rise with inflation, making a new library increasingly less affordable for the municipality.

"It's kind of the elephant in the room," she said. "We know this is going to be extremely difficult to pull off, but there comes a time when we can't just keep approving things in principle. Yes, let's move forward with these conversations, but I think ... we really have to start talking seriously here. We can't keep putting this off year after year."

CBRM has already committed $4 million in cash for a new library and is offering land on Sydney's downtown waterfront it says is worth $3 million.

During an online council meeting on Tuesday, Coun. Steve Parsons said a design/build study is needed to get an accurate cost estimate before the municipality could start seeking other funds.

CBRM chief administrative officer Marie Walsh says a design/build contract could cost $3.2 million, so funding partners will be necessary. (Tom Ayers/CBC)

"You can't go off asking for money until you have a true, identifiable cost on any capital project," he said.

However, chief administrative officer Marie Walsh said design/build contracts typically cost about 10 per cent of the estimate, which would mean coming up with roughly $3.2 million.

"I think before we would spend that kind of money, we would need to have commitment from other partners," she said.

Consultant Greg Young said a new building would have to be larger than originally envisioned, because accessibility legislation requires shelves to be lower to be within reach of people using wheelchairs.

The increased square footage would add at least $244,000 to the municipality's annual operating costs, he said.

Council voted to use the report to start discussions with potential funders, such as the provincial and federal governments.

But Walsh said the increased operating costs would be an additional challenge to the project.

"Until we have those discussions, it's really hard to make a move forward, but I guess even with funding partners, the operating piece will be very difficult for CBRM," she said.

Cape Breton Regional Municipality Mayor Amanda McDougall says she has some ideas on how to spend the additional $15 million, but council will have to decide what it wants. (Cape Breton Regional Municipality/Zoom)

Coun. Steve Gillespie said council has been working on the project a long time, but he said there's no quick fix.

He said residents deserve a new library, but council has to ensure it is affordable.

Mayor Amanda McDougall said council needs to get behind a push to get increased library funding from the province.

Coun. Eldon MacDonald said the municipality can find the extra operating money within its existing budget.

'Bold decisions' needed: MacDonald

For example, he said, council could take $250,000 from the sustainability fund, which provides grants to community organizations.

That would hurt, MacDonald said, but a new library would attract increased commercial development and that would provide a way to put resources back into the sustainability fund.

"I think if we make bold decisions to move ahead with this library, we will see the economics and the social impact it will have on our community," he said.



Tom Ayers


Tom Ayers has been a reporter and editor for 36 years. He has spent half of them covering Cape Breton and Nova Scotia stories. You can reach him at