Tofino is ready for the next chapter in its saga to bring a new library to town, as long as enough residents can agree on where to put it.
The current library is housed in the basement of the Tofino Legion, but Tofino’s council and district office has long been in pursuit of a new facility and the Vancouver Island Regional Library Board seems to be on the same page.
“We know for a fact that there’s interest at the district level for a new library to be built and we share that interest…We’re in conversation with the district and, if all goes well and they can find some land that’s suitable and there’s interest to move forward, then we can continue that conversation,” VIRL’s director of communications David Carson told the Westerly News.
“Our libraries truly are key community destinations. People can go there to conduct business meetings, meet with friends or just to take advantage of the myriad of great programming that happens nowadays at libraries. They really are dynamic, vibrant, essential community spaces and we know that Tofino is ready for a new library.”
The district has identified three potential locations for a new library: Katie Monks Memorial Park at 181 First Street, a spot next to the community hall at 351 Arnet Road and the parking lot behind the municipal office at 391 Main Street.
Tofino CAO Bob MacPherson acknowledged that each site being considered “has its warts,” noting that the community hall and municipal office sites would prevent future developments of other potential facilities and the Katie Monks site would require removing significant vegetation.
He said a key element in the new library’s location is its proximity to other amenities.
“We’re trying to think in terms of either a downtown location or a location up by the community hall so that the library is co-located with other uses,” he said. “In my mind, the co-location around other things is an important factor.”
A survey was circulated in December asking residents which of the three locations they preferred. The results of that survey are being tabulated and are expected to be presented to council during a Committee of the Whole meeting in February or March.
MacPherson said the survey sparked dialogue within the community and shed light on the public’s interest in a new library.
“It was not intended to be a conversation starter, it has turned out that way though, which has been a really nice side effect,” he said.
“There’s work to do and I think the district, staff and council are ready to work with both VIRL as well as our community to find a library that maybe isn’t perfect for everybody, but provides the library service that this community deserves.”
VIRL’s director of finance Joel Adams told the Westerly that in order for Tofino to move ahead, a location must be presented to the board and the site must be cleared and ready to develop.
“We always want it to be serviced and shovel-ready, so that would be the responsibility of the municipality to ensure that’s the case and then, assuming it’s supported by our board as part of our capital plan, we would look to what makes sense in terms of whether we go to a long-term borrowing model or we use our own reserves and we would move forward,” he said.
He explained that, outside of paying to prepare a site for construction, the district would not bear the brunt of the new library’s price tag as VIRL would cover the building costs through its capital plan, which draws funding from each of its members.
“There is no spike in taxes,” Adams said. “We have a capital plan that drives our decisions and we decide for each of our projects whether we’re going to pay for it through our capital reserves or we are going to go through a long-term borrowing process.”
He added that that funding model has led to nearly 20 new or significantly upgraded library facilities across the Island since 2011.
“We’ve got lots more on the go,” he said. “It’s really allowed us to tackle a lot of improvements to our service areas that we wouldn’t have been able to do just through raising the funds in each service location. It allows us to pool those costs and accomplish more with those dollars than we would be able to individually.”
He reiterated that Tofino is on VIRL’s list of potential capital projects, but stressed that that list is not prioritized and a variety of factors are in play in terms of getting a project going.
“Certainly we’ve had conversations over the years with Tofino about a number of different plans and a number of different sites. I think we’ll get there, but we’re not quite there yet,” he said.
“We’re waiting until we have a site chosen by the municipality that we can take a look at and agree that it does meet our needs. We don’t really have a project in a traditional sense because we don’t really know what it’s going to look like…I think we all want to move forward with something but, until we have that decision on the site, we don’t really have anything to review and make a decision on.”
He cautioned that even if Tofino picks a site in short order, a variety of hurdles would still need to be cleared before a defined timeline takes shape.
“It’s certainly not going to happen overnight, but we have a good process in place for moving things along as quickly as we can,” he said.
“We’ve been talking with them for a number of years, gone through a few different versions of plans and sites and, of course, once they get a site in mind and have made a decision about that, they’re going to be expecting work to start right away. That’s how it’s been with every community where we’ve had these long-term planning projects before we get anywhere near shovels in the ground.”
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