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Greater Victoria Library Board approves Emily Carr branch relocation to Uptown

Accessibility to new Saanich site remains prime concern to board members
Greater Victoria Library-Emily Carr Branch
Nine-year-old Hailey Fischer and her mom Cora Fischer get help from circulation assistant Amanda Butler to renew her library card at the Emily Carr branch of the Greater Victoria Public Library. The GVPL board voted to move the branch across Blanchard Street to Uptown.

The Emily Carr branch of the Greater Victoria Public Library is set to move to Uptown, after a narrow vote of approval Tuesday.

In a 8-7 vote, the GVPL board supported approving the relocation of the 40-year-old branch across the street to a 5,000-square-foot space on the upper level of Uptown.

But the split vote came less as a result of opposition to the move, and more due to board members feared outstanding concerns – namely access for patrons with disabilities – could fall by the wayside.

“It wasn’t until I did a site visit that the issue of accessibility became absolutely top of mind for me. If you have even a moderate disability, it’s a nightmare,” said Victoria Coun. Pam Madoff, a member of the board, regarding accessing the upper level of Uptown as a pedestrian.

Board vice-chair Kevin Murdoch, an Oak Bay councillor, acknowledged that there is a lot of opposition to moving the branch to a leased commercial space at Uptown.

“There’s a lot of ‘I do not want to go to Uptown’ comments. But we have to move it somewhere,” he said. “Uptown is the logical location for (relocation). I think this is as good as it gets within that space.”

Board member Phil McNair pointed to survey results that indicate there isn’t overwhelmingly strong support for relocation.

“To have gone to people and presented one option, I think a lot of people recognize that as ‘this is a fait accompli and you’re not really asking our thoughts on this,’’’ McNair said. “If we are concerned about library patrons, which to me is our brand … the survey results tell us not to (support) this yet.”

A summary of survey results indicate that 51 per cent of regular Emily Carr patrons said a relocation would be beneficial. More than half said “lots of parking,” “easy to get to,” and “easy to find” were the most important factors to be considered in relocating.

The existing Emily Carr branch is “old and outdated,” “poorly configured” and “inaccessible for wheelchair users,” GVPL deputy CEO Lynne Jordon told the News last month. Relocating to the new Uptown site will allow for better use of space, and will save money on operational costs, Jordon said.

Board chair Greg Bunyan called the decision a "good move," and one he believes library patrons will support.

"We have a philosophy to bring the library to the people by co-locating ... to where people go to do more than one thing at at a time," he said, pointing to the Bruce Hutchison and Centennial libraries being co-located at Saanich recreation centres. "Twenty- to twenty-two-thousand people go to Uptown every day. Those people will now have easy exposure to the library.

"And we have to make sure our current patrons are comfortable with the new location. No matter what we do, we have to let the public know what's happening with the move because we know there will be a lot of questions."

Once direction from the library is given to Saanich, staff will prepare a report for council to decide whether it supports financing a long-term lease at Uptown. (Operating agreements between municipalities and the GVPL lay out that the municipality provides and pays for the library facility, while the GVPL pays to operate the library.)

Saanich owns the existing Emily Carr branch building. Feedback from library users suggests there's an appetite to stay in the old building, but it's unlikely Saanich would spend money upgrading it and the GVPL's 2010 Facilities Plan indicates a need to move the Emily Carr branch, as opposed to simply a retrofit.

Lease negotiations are ongoing between Saanich and Uptown, and details on what it might cost have not been released. The finals terms of the lease, if it's approved by council, will happen in-camera.

Upon the split decision, the board approved a motion requesting updates on accessibility and mobility issue resolutions as the leasing process goes forward.

The board also informally discussed wanted to see a communication plan to determine how best to inform library users of the relocation.