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LETTER: Library issue highlights that public input is meaningless in Guelph

Local community activist Susan Watson is not pleased with city staff's recommendation that council consider a smaller new library
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The following letter to the editor was submitted to GuelphToday by local activist Susan Watson:

I’ve come to realize that all the public input in the world is meaningless in Guelph. Often, long down the road, after lots of “public consultation” and expensive consultants’ reports, city staff just changes the rules.

They are about to do it again with our new library. And because local media has been chopped and stretched thin, they don’t have to worry much about blowback from citizens (their actual bosses).

On July 22, staff will ask city council to approve exploring an option for the new library that will slash the budget from $50 million to $34 million and cut floor space from 89,000 to 65,000 square feet.

This is after years of thinking and planning for something better.

Doug Ford would be proud. And just like Ford’s own long list of irrational attacks on libraries, there is simply no business case that supports a big arbitrary gutting like this.

A bit of history

In 2017, an architect was hired to reduce the scale of the $70-million (in 2021 dollars), 90,000-square-foot library initially conceived a decade before.

The result was a proposed 80,000-square-foot library in the $40 million range. KMPG, the consultant hired by the Guelph Public Library, evaluated that plan against the lowest category of a commonly used North-American metric, the Wisconsin Standard.

Their conclusion: If we want to deliver the most basic standard of service for Guelph’s population in 2036, we need a minimum 87,000-square-foot library with a $50 million price tag.

In fact, KPMG’s interim business case report already breaks down a scenario for a 65,000 square foot library like the one staff is proposing. According to KPMG, all that a 65,000-square-foot facility will deliver is an accessible version of our present library, with shorter bookshelves and wider aisles — too small for our current population, before the first shovel has gone in the ground.

This is Fordism. Cut hard and fast and irrationally. Don’t explain. Public be damned. Long-term thinking be damned. Cater to special interests behind the curtain.

But the days of the Ford government are already numbered. Its incompetence, patronage scandals, shameless developer pandering, and sheer mean-spiritedness will ensure it/he is not re-elected. We shouldn’t allow the temporary chaos Ford has created to undermine the long-term quality of life in our city.

Cities like Calgary, Halifax, Kitchener, and Fergus have recognized that libraries drive urban renewal and generate community prosperity. They are engines of civic pride and education and cultural value.

Great cities invest in quality. And it pays back over time because energetic, industrious people want to live in quality cities.

We have one opportunity to build a library truly valuable for Guelph (far more valuable than the parking lot currently being built for tens of millions of dollars).

Your "input" is needed right now.

Tell your councillors before July 22 that Guelph should always aim high, should aim for greatness, and that a proper library in the heart of the city is a cornerstone of that greatness, a great place for us all.

– Susan Watson, local community activist