Airdrie’s Old Fire Hall, located at 805 Main Street, has been identified as the preferred location for the city’s new library following a unanimous council vote at a meeting June 3.
“It is a comprehensive location that meets the recommended guiding principles,” said Michael Brown, president and CEO of Calgary Municipal Land Corporation (CMLC), in a report to council. “A successful library will encourage and grow the community, be adaptable yet functional, act as a landmark building for the city and be the main gathering place for all people within the community – this can be achieved at the Old Fire Hall site.”
CMLC was retained by the City in January to provide a recommendation for a Airdrie Public Library (APL) site, based on key library stakeholder interviews, as well as strategic planning discussions with council. Three sites had already been identified as potential locations, according to Brown, including the Old Fire Hall site, the Airdrie Mainstreet Square site (where the facility is currently located) and the Nose Creek Museum site.
A number of themes were revealed during engagement with stakeholders, Brown said, which identified the future role of the new library within the community and informed the report’s final recommendation.
“This library has the potential to be a catalytic project to bring the focus back downtown,” he said. “With the library being centrally located, it will be supportive of more walkable neighbourhoods, further contributing to a complete community.”
The Nose Creek Museum site didn’t achieve sufficiently strong connections to the City’s downtown, according to the report, creating less of an impact to the development of a walkable community. Site logistics were a concern for the Mainstreet Square site, which currently already houses the library, as well as several long-term leases with other businesses.
“These leases may delay the construction of the new library or increase the cost to the project dependent on the termination clause,” Brown said, adding, “Dependent on the new design of the library, the existing library may need to close during construction and be temporarily relocated.”
Construction at that site would also need to be well co-ordinated, he noted, staged and communicated in a way that would minimize impacts to adjacent businesses.
The Old Fire Hall, however, serves as a “natural gateway” into Airdrie’s downtown – an aspect Brown said could be enhanced through improvements like a crosswalk and sidewalk treatments. Since the site is also adjacent to Nose Creek Park, he said, the library would lead into another complementary amenity, and thoughtful design could allow for the creation of stronger connections to the nearby commercial space, as well.
However, according to Coun. Tina Petrow, the recommended location would “disconnect” the new library from the downtown core.
“It is a gateway, not a landmark, and I don’t think it’s going to be what’s going to be driving our business and driving our residents and tourists to come to our downtown,” she said, adding she believes the Mainstreet Square site would be a more appropriate location and choosing an “easier” site to relieve political pressure is a “reactionary” move on council’s part.
“We should be thinking about functional, long-term planning, and I don’t think this decision is doing that.”
Still, Petrow voted in favour of Coun. Candice Kolson’s motion to endorse the recommendation that the new library be developed on the site of Airdrie’s Old Fire Hall.
“In the Old Fire Hall site, the new library will become the gateway to a rejuvenated community – one that recognizes and supports the value of literacy and culture,” said Pam Medland, library director, in an APL press release issued June 4. “We are excited by the opportunities a larger library can offer to library patrons and the city as a whole.”
The next step of the project will see the City hiring a consultant to draft a library functional program plan and a project governance model, to oversee how the project will be delivered.
“I have no doubt that we’ll build a landmark facility that enhances and has the potential to be a catalyst for a vibrant downtown,” Kolson said.