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City to take a 'pause' on new library discussion and look at options, says acting CAO

A funding gap that existed at the old $50 million price tag is now even greater as projected cost hits $64.4 million
20190715 library ts
Concept drawing of the new main library.

A smaller library, increasing taxes, delaying other capital projects and a special levy will all be options looked at as the city tries to figure out what comes next in its plans for a new main library on Baker Street.

A costing document delivered to city staff on Tuesday from the architect of the new library said that as it sits, the library as designed would cost $64.4 million, which is $14.4 million more than what was previously planned for.

City council was already scheduled to consider a request from staff to look at downsizing the project from the $50 million, given some budget shortfalls in the plan to pay for it.

Now everything is on hold.

"Obviously we're a little surprised by the numbers. That's why we want to make more sense of it and understand what's in here," said the city's acting CAO Scott Stewart on Friday.

"That's why we're pausing. We've just received it. I'm a little surprised at it and it is a big jump. So what does that mean?

"It's the first time we've seen the $64.4 million number. That's why we want to pause here."

The library issue was supposed to be on Monday's city council meeting agenda but has now been postponed. It was felt staff need more time to analyze the  information.

They will return in the fall with more information for council and various options moving forward.

City council does not meet in August.

Some necessary in-camera discussion will take place on the project on Monday, Stewart said.

"How do we tackle the issue that's in front of us ... but what's the actual dollars that's required and how do we handle the delta, the funding gap," said Stewart, who said he not yet know if the cost estimate was in 2019 dollars of if it took into account the fact the library construction isn't scheduled to begin until 2021.

Staff will be analyzing the costing document to see if there are any efficiencies or other elements that could be possibly removed to cut cost.

Eventually it will be up to council to decide on the size and cost of the library and how any extra funding shortfall will be covered.

"We'll have a fantastic library out of this, no matter what, but it's 'how do you tackle this funding gap?' That's the discussion."

Stewart agreed some of that discussion will be a tough discussion.

"There has to be some tough decisions made. We're at that space now. We're moving forward and it's how we fund the moving forward part."

Stewart said that staff did not have time before Monday's council meeting to digest the new information and make recommendations.

"Let's see what's in here, let's see what it means and let's just grind through some of the details."

Stewart said the parking structure is one thing that is being looked at.

A 500-spot underground parking garage is up for debate after costing estimates skyrocketed due to bedrock that would have to be dealt with, doubling the average cost of a parking spot.

"It's not a surprise and it's not that it can't be done. But maybe there's an opportunity for cutting some cost," said Stewart.

Staff is recommending the city look at combining parking with nearby residential towers.