Library Dollars And Sense

Reviewing online mail notifications pertaining to the week just passed, Construction Links Network came with news that five architectural teams have been selected to compete for the new Ottawa Central Library.

Who are they?

Apparently one of the firms named is the Denmark-based firm which participated in the design of the Halifax Public Library. Design of this innovative facility appeared to create a media stir in the past year.

This Danish firm has teamed up with two Canadian firms in pursuit of the Ottawa facility.

The new Ottawa Central Library will form part of a 2-building complex with Archives Canada. Both will be accessible by a common entrance connection with a shared amenity linkage.

The Library component will consist of 133,000 sq ft out of a total 216,000 sq ft for the dual complex. Apportioned cost for the Library is $168 million, which equates to approximately $1,263 per square foot.

By comparison, the new Calgary Main Branch Library, with an area of 240,000 sq ft, is under construction at a cost of $245 million or about $1,020 per square foot.

If the juxtaposed, tiered Halifax design was deemed unique, Calgary’s perceived space frame accommodation befits the title of a creatively unique, extravagant competition selection, depicting form unrelated to function. This facility was designed by a Norwegian multidisciplinary firm with offices across the globe.

Further review suggests that the high unit costs are the norm for new, attract attention library buildings or attributable to unique circumstances.

Does a hypothetical functional program exist for the Windsor facility with an associated predetermined budget supported by detailed unit costs per associated trade?

Final disposition remains a mystery.

A review of additional recent improvements and new buildings to the Canadian library system in development of new facilities are accessible and available online to assist in verifying related costs. These deal with site selection and multiple sourced inputs pertaining to location and functional requirements for such facilities.

The common thread to realization is the multiple years of planning which formed the foundation of what followed.

Locally, the process cries for transparency and public input to determine how we arrived at the point of seeking out a temporary location. Planning is contingent on process to achieve an accomplished result. Apparently, the local process has failed.

The recent sale of the 46 year old, 101,467 sq ft WPL Central Branch, at $3.6 million, equates to $35.50, plus or minus, per square foot. In drawing comparisons to build or renovate, was there full disclosure of cost options as is evident in Ottawa and Calgary?

Considering the two new facilities noted, one could have put another $1,000 per square foot or less to remedy the strategically located, spacious, existing facility with its multiple demographic and physical amenities already in place. Low cost supplementary space, in this and the years to follow, is a luxurious commodity compliant with flexibility and associated opportunities.

Consideration to duplicating the area of the existing main branch in a new building, while contemplating Calgary and Ottawa, suggests a cost in excess of $100 million, which is well over the $3.6 million sale price. In addition, the land and all the design and development requirements will boost costs.

Both Ottawa and Calgary are, give or take, five times the population of Windsor. The assertion reported in the media is that the existing WPL building is, “too big.” The question directed to the Windsor Public Library is, “How big is big enough?”

More transparency is required, recognizing that, as CBC reported on March 2, Library officials are working to find a temporary site for the library and will be seeking public input on the new central branch.”

Is this an after thought to reconcile the misdirected process to vacate while not knowing where to go?

The mayor has reported that more news is to follow later this year; an election year.

Unlike Ottawa, Windsor has relieved itself of opportunities associated with publicly owned land options in the sale of the Riverside Drive parking lot west of the Art Gallery/Chimchuk Museum. The view is impeccable, but the purpose of a public library should be conveniently centered within its walls and the resources it provides, and not what is going on around it.

The existing City Hall, as previously referenced, remains a library option along with insitu compatible neighbours. When numbers attaining the level of $1,000 per square foot enter into the equation for new construction, there had better be doable options.

Cost estimates are predisposed to precedents. Although variables do occur, product generated is directly proportional to input extended. Principles of Less is More is pure fantasy.

Could have the new downtown Catholic high school created additional stimulus by association with the library to ensure success of a sound business plan? Distance considerations relating to the tunnel plaza form part of sound conceptual planning for vehicle and pedestrian separation.

Could the vacant brown-fields at University Avenue East and Glengarry Avenue, immediately southeast of the Casino parking deck, be consideration for expropriation and development to form an educational pillar extending the central business district eastward?

It seems to me that major expenditures are on the horizon.

Associated cost  to accomplishment may not necessarily be disclosed with an election looming in the fall. There was a time in previous administrations when planning principles were envisioned, distilled, and communicated in visual form in the public interest..

Given the 33 world class proponents who responded to the Ottawa Library, one might expect similar response to a properly formulated, rational proposal development call in Windsor’s CBD, Such a response to future educational needs would enhance the inroads established by our two post secondary schools who see opportunity in their association of investing in Windsor’s future.

About the Author

William Kachmaryk, Sr
William Kachmaryk, is an architect and member of the Ontario Association of Architects. He has extensive work experience in both Canada and the United States and was the original architect of the Pelissier Street parking garage in Windsor.