Town submits application for grant that would see facility relocated to MCC

Special to the VOICE

Despite a rushed process ahead of a tight deadline for a federal cultural grant that is part of the Investing in Canada Infrastructure Program, Town Council learned October 28 that it is in fact feasible to move the Pelham Library to a proposed new addition at the community centre.

“We called the [MCC’s original] architects to look at the feasibility, and they came back with three conceptual designs,” Treasurer Teresa Quinlin said. “It’s something we definitely can do.”

With the grant — if approved — expected to cover about three-quarters of the cost of the addition, Quinlin estimates the Town’s portion of the bill would come in at $2.1 million dollars. However, directly linked to the proposal is the sale of the existing Fonthill library branch, on Pelham Town Square. Quinlin cited commercial real estate outfit Collier’s appraisal of that property at $2 million. If that price is fetched, the cost of the new library addition to the Town would be estimated at only $133,000.

“We think that is a reasonable amount,” Quinlin said.

Quinlin said a new library built on the northwest corner of the MCC complex could be approximately 14,000 square feet in size. At the October 7 council meeting, where the idea was first tabled, acting library CEO Amy Guilmette expressed concerns that moving to the MCC would downsize the library’s existing square footage from its current 10,000 square feet.

With an additional 4,000 square feet now cited, library brass sounded optimistic.

“Adding the library to the Meridian Community Centre would be a great way to increase the library’s space to meet existing needs,” read a statement provided to the Voice from the library board.

“The library’s acting CEO and the library board are working to ensure that if the Town successfully receives the infrastructure grant and the Fonthill branch were to relocate, the same excellent service will be provided with a larger collection, additional amenities, and improved access for all.”

One item noted by Quinlin is the staff’s belief that the new library could save money by allowing the Maple Acre branch in Fenwick to go self-service.

“Savings would come at the Fenwick library, because that would be self-serve,” Quinlin said. “I think this will allow us to extend hours of the [new] library without increasing costs.”

The specter of job cuts was not discussed, but Guilmette told the Voice that she doesn’t believe automation would save money.

“It is my experience that the type of automation systems they are looking at rarely reduces costs, however they do enhance services and may increase the public’s access to library materials,” she said. “High-level automation technologies are cost-containment measures, not cost-savings measures and may allow us to reallocate our staffing resources to where they are needed the most —on the floor connecting and building positive relationships with the public.”

Council, sitting as Committee of the Whole, appeared happy about the idea coming a step closer to fruition.

“I think we’re far better off selling [the existing library] building,” Councillor Bob Hildebrandt said, asserting that it is going to require at least half a million dollars in upgrades to make it compliant with provincial accessibility standards by 2025. In other words, as long as the old property sells for close to what Colliers thinks it can, it will actually be cheaper to move the library.

“This will be cost-neutral,” Hildebrandt said. “We can have a one-stop shop for everyone in town, then [the MCC] is actually a cultural centre for our community.”

Director of Community Planning and Development Barb Wiens said that the grant proposal would create 190 more parking spaces for the community centre.

Quinlin also said that included in the grant application is the cost of a power generator intended to be able to make the MCC the town’s emergency evacuation facility.

The deadline for the federal grant application is November 12. Quinlin said staff was going to submit the paperwork on October 29. If approved, the Town would have eight years to spend the money.

“It’s a huge opportunity,” she said. “We’re pretty excited about it.”

Bus switcheroo?

In Quinlin’s discussion of the 2020 capital budget with councilors, one of the items under consideration was the abandonment of the much-maligned two-bus Pelham Transit system, in favour of an on-demand bus service that would be operated in conjunction with Niagara Region.

“That’s something we’re going to consider for next year,” Quinlin said. “[It wouldn’t] have a bus following a particular route, we would just have on-demand.”

It’s an about-face of sorts, after the Town added a second bus to Pelham Transit this fall— to the consternation of some residents annoyed by bus stop signs going up near their properties for mostly-empty buses — in order to secure a provincial transit funding grant.

Councilor Ron Kore, who was vocally opposed to the second bus from the beginning, immediately asked if the grant money would remain.

Staff seemed confident that it would.

“If we decide to change the type of service,” said Director of Recreation, Culture and Wellness Vickie vanRavenswaay, “we’d be meeting with MTO and making sure it won’t affect our $500,000 grant.”

CAO David Cribbs wanted to clarify to council that no move had yet been made.

“In light of that presentation, we’re not currently engaged in the RFP process to replace our existing service for the next calendar year,” he said.

VanRavenswaay said that the Town is running the current bus service on a month-to-month basis, in part because of the logistics of having two separate operators run the two buses.

“At the moment we have two contractors, which is making it extremely challenging sometimes,” she said. “So we look forward to having one contractor.”

The current bus setup is budgeted for a loss of $249,000 this year.