A long-awaited and hotly contested expansion of the Bright’s Grove Library is one step closer to reality after council agreed to add it to Sarnia’s 10-year capital plan.
“We’re thrilled,” said Kirsten Kilner Holmes, who co-chairs the group spearheading the proposed ‘community hub’ at 2618 Hamilton Rd., home to Gallery in the Grove and a Lambton library branch.
“It was a lot of work, and honestly a lot of really courageous initiative from city council members to recognize the importance of this project, and we appreciate it.”
The proposal calls for a 7,000-square-foot expansion at historic Faethorne House with a larger library and art gallery, elevator and accessible washrooms, and indoor gathering space for youth programs, meetings and special events.
The city-owned building is located near two schools and a large park, but is cramped and inaccessible, especially a long staircase leading to the second floor gallery showcase for local art. The women who voluntarily operate the gallery first appealed to the city for help more than 20 years ago.
Council narrowly voted 5-4 to amend the capital plan to include the project, and gave the go-ahead for staff to procure detailed design drawings at an estimated cost of $300,000 to $350,000.
“This is an opportunity to fill a decades-long promise,” said Coun. Brian White, who pushed for the go-ahead.
“We’re talking about accessibility for one of the buildings that we have a responsibility for providing, at which accessibility is virtually non-existent.”
City CAO Chris Carter told council the project — originally estimated at $3.4 million — will cost as least $5 million and possibly as much as $8 million.
But Kilner Holmes expressed caution about those figures.
“I understand construction costs have gone up… but we don’t know until these detailed drawings are done. Then we’ll have an accurate cost estimate.”
White and Kilner Holmes say ‘significant’ and ‘promising’ donations are already lined up.
“We can’t really say anything more than that, but there’s conversations happening with people who believe in the value of libraries and community and they recognize the value and importance of this project,” Kilner Holmes said.
Coun. Terry Burrell voted no.
“I don’t think we have enough information to go ahead with this,” he said. “I haven’t seen in the community the real support for this, to be honest with you.”
Councillors Dave Boushy, Bill Dennis and Mayor Mike Bradley also voted against.
“I don’t think we have enough money,” said Boushy. “Where is the money coming from? Money doesn’t grow on trees.”
Kilner Holmes said work is underway to secure donations and funding, including from the Ontario Trillium Foundation’s capital grant program.
“I think we’re the perfect fit for many funders,” she said, pointing to expansive library features such as Makerspace — which offers opportunities for innovation and creation through the use of 3D printers and other technology.
“Libraries are incredible hubs of community now; this isn’t just Bright’s Grove, but anybody with a library card — whether you live in Petrolia or Sarnia or Watford.
“I still remember taking my kids to story hour,” she added. “Those library cards — they mean something to a little one.”