Saskatoon·BUDGET 2020

Saskatoon city councillors vote 6-5 to lower new-library loan amount to $67.5M

Vote means library can borrow $20M less than it planned for new facility, a 'significant' change says the Saskatoon Public Library.

Vote means library can borrow $20M less than it planned for new facility, a 'significant' change says SPL

The new library will not be built at its current location at the corner of 4th Avenue S and 23rd Street E. (Guy Quenneville/CBC)

Saskatoon city councillors have voted in support of lowering the loan amount for a new downtown library to $67.5 million, a $20-million cut from what the Saskatoon Public Library was asking for.

The Saskatoon Public Library (SPL) had asked for $152.9 million in capital funding to build a new downtown library branch. Part of that figure included an $87.5-million loan requiring the approval of city councillors.

But while all councillors agreed a new downtown library is needed, many cited concerns with the requested loan amount.

Ward 1 councillor Darren Hill signaled his interest in lowering the loan amount to $67.5 million, which was ultimately approved. That now puts the maximum total capital budget for the new library at $132.9 million. It also reduces the project's $26-million contingency to $6 million. 

Councillors Hill, Hilary Gough, Mairin Loewen, Cynthia Block, Sarina Gersher and Mayor Charlie Clark voted in favour of Hill's amount, with the rest of council voting against it.

SPL board chair Lisa Erickson said she was "ecstatic" that a plan for a new library has finally been approved. 

Erickson was asked several times by councillors what would happen if council lowered the borrowing amount. She said specifics were difficult to offer.

"Again, a crystal ball question," Erickson said. "I didn't bring mine today."

Erickson added that the board would have to consider the impact of that lowered loan amount.

But Erickson did say shaving $20 million off the borrowing amount is "a significant portion of the project" and that she couldn't guarantee all aspects of the plan would survive the funding cut. 

Erickson was also asked why SPL didn't come to council with detailed designs for the project. 

"It's important for us to know council supports this project before we make that kind of investment," she said.

SPL currently has $27.8 million in a new library reserve. 

Loewen said she didn't want a lower loan amount to affect how much SPL could fundraise for the project. Its current fundraising target is $15 million.

Surprise guest Yann Martel

Saskatoon author Yann Martel, winner of the Man Booker Prize for his novel Life of Pi, asked councillors to be "bold" and fund the library plan. He stressed the project's long gestation period, the physical limitations of the current Francis Morrison Central Library and a library's role as an open space for all segments of society.

"You don't need money to go the library," he said. 

Saskatoon author Yann Martel spoke Monday at city hall in support of a new downtown library. (Guy Quenneville/CBC)

While he acknowledged construction cost overages on the Remai Modern Art Museum, he said that gallery ended up as "a magnificent jewel" to be proud of and should not be cited as a cautionary tale to compare a new library against.

Keith Moen, the executive director of the Northern Saskatoon Business Association said he agreed with Ward 4 councillor Troy Davies that the library plan is too costly and that the project needs to be scaled down.

Moen did not have a specific smaller figure in mind when asked by Ward 1 councillor Darren Hill. 

10 new frontline police officers approved

Saskatoon city councillors have approved 15 new police positions over the next two years, including 10 front-line officers. 

Eight of those front-line officers will help police the supervised consumption site expected to open in 2020. Police Chief Troy Cooper clarified that those eight officers will also be responding to calls in the wider area. The supervised consumption site will be located in the city's Pleasant Hill area, where several of this year's homicides have taken place. 

"That area of the city has some existing challenges," Police Chief Troy Cooper said.

Cooper added that the officers assigned to the consumption site will help reduce costs in the health sector.

Saskatoon city councillors are trying to cut down a preliminary 2020 property tax hike of 3.14 per cent. 

Saskatoon Police Chief Troy Cooper said the service has experienced a notable spike in call volumes. (Guy Quenneville/CBC)

About the Author

Guy Quenneville

Reporter and web writer for CBC Saskatoon

Story tips and ideas welcomed at guy.quenneville@cbc.ca

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