I go to the Henderson Library quite a bit, and I have the late charges to prove it. I never thought of it as a busy library, but then again, I only go to Henderson and Millennium these days, so I don’t have the best knowledge on the subject.
The City of Winnipeg will most likely extend its lease in the Shindico-owned stripmall at Henderson and McLeod, which involves the expansion of the library from 12,000 to 18,000 square feet at a lower rate per square foot. In addition, Shindico will provide $450,000 in tenant improvements, and the city will commit to just under $9 million in rent during a 20-year lease.
Councillor Russ Wyatt would like to see the former East Kildonan City Hall, currently listed for sale by the city, replaced by a new library building with the 18,000 square feet of library space and with 10,000 square feet of parking. The parking would probably include 30-35 spaces (by my layperson’s estimate). Wyatt claims that the work could be done for $4 million.
Is Wyatt’s estimate accurate? I believe that it is optimistic, but not completely unrealistic. By comparing the new library to the new Bronx Park Community Centre a couple of blocks away, it’s possible to reach some conclusions:
1. Bronx Park Community Centre is 25,000 square feet and its construction (including the demolition of the former clubhouse) cost between $5 and $6 million. The final costs are difficult to calculate, as there are still some small capital costs remaining before the project can be considered 100% complete.
2. Bronx Park was originally budgeted at $4 million (from what I recall), with construction inflation (as opposed to design changes) being responsible for the increase.
Assuming that a new Bronx Park were constructed starting in 2010, the cost for 25,000 square feet is likely to be close to $6 million; 18,000 square feet is 72% of that size, however, the new library’s parking lot would also be significantly smaller than Bronx Park’s (30-35 vs almost 100 spots). Of course, parking lots are cheaper than buildings, so I’ll assume a 70% size. That brings us to a ballpark cost of $4.2 million for a new library at 755 Henderson Hwy
However, there are other costs; there is the loss in property tax revenue on an estimated $700,000 commercial or multi-tenant residential property (this value could vary based on what replaces the city hall building). There is also the cost of maintenance for the building, and any mortgage costs depending on the method of financing. There is also the cost of moving inventory one kilometer to the new site, but this is obviously small compared to the other expenses.
In my opinion, Councillor Wyatt’s plan has merit and should be considered as a reasonable counter to the expansion at Rossmere Plaza.
There is, however, one big issue that makes the construction of a new Henderson Library less appealing: the city already has a lease with Shindico for the existing library until 2018. This extension was approved by Council in July 2008, when it was already obvious that 755 Henderson would be declared surplus, and when the idea of expanding the library was already being considered unofficially by Shindico and the city. Of course, this informal consideration may not have been known to Councillors Wyatt or Browaty at the time. Assuming that construction of a new library could be completed by 2012 or 2013, the lease agreement with Shindico would need to be revised and some form of penalty would need to be justly levied on the city. In addition, the city’s capital budget forecast through 2016 would have to change as well, and there is little desire among most councillors to see the capital totals increase.
So just like many other issues in this city, including the River East issues of the Disraeli rehabilitation and the closure of Kelvin Community Centre, by the time the issue becomes public knowledge, it’s already too late to expect the decision to be changed. So when Councillor Wyatt asks “Why is the mayor so eager to sign an unprecedented 20-year lease with Shindico without exploring other options?”, the answer is that the decision is usually made before anyone has the time or the forewarning to suggest other options.
I personally don’t think that renewing the lease at Rossmere Plaza is a big problem; I would prefer to see a city-owned building, but citizens didn’t elect a mayor and a council majority who want to see more city assets. In 2010, voters in Winnipeg will have the option of choosing their councillors and their mayor, and then they can decide if the mayor and council majority’s concept of running the city like a business is working.
On another note, I think this decision confirms what we know to be true in this city (and in other levels of government): by the time the public finds out, it’s too late to offer alternatives.
The only way that this will change is if groups of citizens track these decisions before it’s too late to bring other ideas to the table. In theory, citizens could have come forward in 2007 to discuss Henderson Library and the idea of expansion or relocation. But we need to solve two problems:
1. How can we make sure we have access to the information we need in the timeframe that the information would be of use?
2. How can we motivate and support citizens to proactively monitor these issues?
Those two problems are something I’ve thought about for a while, and so far, I don’t have any answers. Maybe if we can come up with a way to make it work, we can ensure that the decisions made by Winnipeg’s City Council involve the level of deliberation and reflection that taxpayers deserve.