Issues raised by local residents include opening hours and accessibility
At an Abbotsford city council meeting on November 2, council voted unanimously to build a new library. The new branch will be a joint development with School District #34 and will be built on land already owned by the city. The new library will be attached to the new Abbotsford Collegiate facility, in what some residents consider to be a controversial move. The new library, set to open in 2012, will spell the end for the downtown Fraser Valley Regional Library (FVRL) branch, MSA Centennial. This decision has upset members of the public.
While Council is very positive about the new branch, which will cost the city $4 million (over half of which will be available in a library reserve fund by 2012), community members were upset with the plans to scrap MSA Centennial: “It’s a home,” UFV student Katherine Palmateer said.
“Taking [the branch] out of the downtown core is the biggest issue for me. It’s a home for a lot of people who are marginalized, and you see a lot of that in Downtown Abbotsford,” Palmateer said.
Security issues regarding the new library’s proximity to Abbotsford Collegiate were brought up at the council meeting, with citizens feeling that having a public space like a library near a school would pose a threat to students. However, when citizen Regina Dalton asked the Council where else this model has been attempted, the presenter quickly responded that Britannia Community Centre in Vancouver has successfully operated a public library and a school in the same facility.
Britannia Community Centre, according to its website, was started in 1974 by citizens and civic agencies “to coordinate and integrate a wide range of human services.” The successful blend of community resources, including an arena, swimming pool, library and public schools gives some hope to Abbotsford’s similar project.
The new library will be 50,000 square feet, and, along with the new Abbotsford Collegiate, will be built according to Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Gold standards. It will have a very open feel and use current design standards – such as harnessing natural as opposed to artificial light to illuminate the facility. The library will have its own entrance to the public, as well as 30 above-ground parking spots set aside for public use.
Unlike the MSA Centennial branch, the new library will be less accessible via public transit. Located just under a kilometer from the old library – but still well out of downtown Abbotsford – the new library will only be along one bus route, as opposed to the old one, which is near the bus exchange. However, the new facility will be more accessible to people with disabilities – the library will have a wheelchair ramp and wheelchair accessible washrooms, which MSA Centennial lacked.
Despite these benefits, the new library will not have longer opening hours, which is not a big help to university students who need night-time resources and study spaces in the city. This issue does appear to be especially pertinent to students at UFV with the current student-led petition circulating around campus in a bid for the school library to be open longer.
The new library, while controversial to the public, is something that Abbotsford city council has called a “no-brainer.” But for people like Katherine Palmateer, and the other residents who spoke out at the council meeting, the decision remains disappointing. Regarding the proposed plans for the library, Palmateer said “It’s so big, and there is no community feeling.”