After 20 Years of “Dithering” Library Finally Ready to Book It

Photos by Andre Gagne

The central branch of the Ottawa Public Library is heading west!

Yesterday city council approved LeBreton Flats as the site for what is being called a "super library" set to replace the aging main branch currently at 120 Metcalfe Street. The 21-1 vote to partner with Library and Archives expressed the near unanimous opinion that the update is long overdue.

“We’re moving forward on something iconic to this city,” said library board chair and Beacon Hill-Cyrville Coun. Tim Tierney.

Tierney expressed his elation after the vote on the city finally making a choice after what he called “20 years of dithering”.

The library board pushed the main branch closer to LeBreton earlier this month when it voted in favor of the move to city-owned land at 557 Wellington Street feeling it was the right place to house the expanding collection. In what turned out to be an over four hour meeting, staff presented results of a poll conducted by Nanos Research that showed that 88 per cent out of the 1,000 random residents surveyed were also in favor of the move.

“Today marks a historic moment for our City, as we undertake the first steps to building Ottawa’s new Central Library; a vital landmark facility befitting the world class city we live in,” said Mayor Jim Watson.

“Congratulations to my Council colleagues, the Ottawa Public Library Board and City and Library staff on your exceptional work over the last few years. Your commitment to the Central Library Project will be remembered through the legacy it leaves our future generations.”

While the plan for a 216,000-square-foot joint facility with would certainly give the older main branch much a needed push into modernization, the $168 million upgrade did have its opposition.

“This will be a loss of a branch library in the densest part of the city where walking is the dominant mode of travel,” said Somerset Coun. Catherine McKenney adding that 81 per cent of current main branch users walk to the library.

With her lone vote against, McKenney says that the move will only create a hole in the Centretown community that use the branch for research, a quiet space or to fill out their reading for the month. Joining McKenney in opposing the move is Bookmark the Core, an activist group that also argues the new branch location would be too far for many to get to, especially those with mobility issues.

Rideau-Rockcliffe Coun. Tobi Nussbaum was also critical of the location not focusing on something more centralized and left the council chambers not taking part in the vote.

Library staff and board members, however, do not see a decrease in traffic into the new site expecting 5,000 visitors per day over the current 2,000. In a statement released yesterday, the Ottawa Public Library Group said that the new building will be a “creative placemaker that inspires learning, sparks curiosity, and connects people” and serve as “a one-of-a-kind destination for residents and visitors – both a civic and national landmark.”

Council and the library board both state that the next steps will be developing a funding strategy with the city looking to foot $99 million of the bill though estimates at this stage are still in their preliminary stages. A detailed study into parking requirements will also be made as a more public discussion on the actual final design.

The Government of Canada will make a decision regarding Library and Archives Canada’s participation in the joint facility in spring 2017.