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Library location at Rhodes will 'pay for itself' says city

Thursday, August 21, 2014   by: Darren Taylor

While not everyone is happy about it, there are plans for the Churchill branch of the Sault Ste. Marie Public Library to have a new home in the new year.

The branch, currently located in the Churchill Plaza, will move to the John Rhodes Community Centre.

The Churchill branch's eventual new location, on the upper floor of the Rhodes, is currently leased by Chilly Willy's Bar and Grill.

Chilly Willy's lease expires in the fall.  

After the library board finalizes plans for the branch's new location with architects, renovations of that space will begin.

The decision to relocate the branch was made in a caucus session after city council's August 11 meeting, after presentations were made by the library board and Chilly Willy's owner Jody Wilson   in regards to how the current space at the Rhodes could be used best.

The decision was made in a caucus session because it was a legal matter regarding renewal of a lease at a city-operated facility, city CAO Joe Fratesi told SooToday.com.

The decision will be put to council as an information item at one of its September meetings. 

"His (Wilson's) lease was coming to an end, and he had requested a reduction in the rent he was paying…council was asked to determine if his business was the best use for the space and the matter was dealt with by council," Fratesi said.

Speaking to SooToday.com Wednesday, Wilson said “my contract is due October 1 and I don’t think they (council) were aware that I employ anywhere from 15 to 25 people depending on the season."

"Anything I seemed to say to them went in one ear and out the other. Their mind was made up before I even got there," Wilson said.

Wilson has his supporters, however.

A Keep Chilly Willy's Open Facebook group formed this morning and by late afternoon had more than 2,000 members.

Matthew Shoemaker, running for a council seat in Ward Three in October's municipal election, has stated council should not have made a decision to relocate a city service at the expense of a business owner who employs several people.

While Wilson hopes the decision will come up for discussion again, the city's plan is to go ahead with the relocation, with an approximate cost of $1.5 million.

The library currently pays the Churchill Plaza $95,000 a year in rent.

It is anticipated the money spent on renovations will be balanced out, in the long term, by not having to pay $95,000 in rent annually to the owners of the Churchill Plaza.  

"The renovations themselves are probably under $1 million, and $1.5 million is a number that's been put together regarding new shelving and other things that need to be replaced," Fratesi said.

"It's important to note the equipment that is in the restaurant is equipment that is owned by the city and it's near the end of its useful life."

"If the city were to continue to rent that space out to someone who operates a restaurant, much or all of the equipment would need to be replaced…so all of these things were considered by city council," Fratesi said.

"When you start doing the math on this, it's easy to see the new library in this venue is going to pay for itself, and when you see the experience the city and the library have had with the relocation of the west end branch into the Northern Community Centre, you have a tripling of the number of people going to the library, and I think there's an expectation that same type of increase would likely happen (by having the Churchill branch relocate to the John Rhodes Centre)."

"This would provide parents who drop their kids off to an event (at the Rhodes) with the option of spending some time in the library," Fratesi said.

Chief Executive Officer and Director of Public Libraries Cindy Weir said "I'm very pleased…we're very excited about this opportunity because it allows us to keep a neighbourhood library in the same neighbourhood, and that's often really important to people."

"This will increase our space by about 33 percent, so that for us is really beneficial."

"The current location of Churchill is very tight on space, we're sort of bursting at the seams, so at the John Rhodes Centre, we'll have space for teens and different types of programs, with access to program rooms," Weir said.

"This also will be an opportunity for additional clientele."

"People who haven't gone to the library at the plaza, but go to the John Rhodes Centre on a regular basis for their swimming lessons or exercise can now go to the library…these types of joint facilities are very successful, we've seen that with the success of our Korah branch and I've certainly seen it from my previous experience in southern Ontario."

Weir said there has been a 36 percent increase in visitors and a 46 percent increase in program attendance at the west end branch since it relocated to the Northern Community Centre.

"The concept has been around for quite a while."

"It's a tremendous cost saving for the city and the library board when you can do this and it's very convenient for people, such as the mother who brings one child to a story-time program while her other child has a swimming or gymnastics lesson," Weir said.

Weir said she will be meeting soon with designers for the new Churchill branch location and will continue to work with them "for the next couple of months," with renovations starting in the new year.

Ray Visconti, who created the Keep Chilly Willy's Open group on Facebook said he still hopes council will change its mind and look at other options.

"I've got two children in hockey and I managed a team last year and we used the place quite frequently," said Visconti. "It just doesn't make sense" to close it.

For previous SooToday.com coverage of this story, click here.

 

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