Council wants to move ahead with a new, larger library at the planned Mill Cove Ferry Terminal in Bedford.
The 21,000-square-foot library would be similar in size to the Keshen Goodman Library, “with much improved performance and community programming spaces to support waterfront cultural engagement,” Halifax Public Libraries CEO Åsa Kachan wrote in a report to council.
The municipality long ago outgrew its 6,000-square-foot rented Bedford library space on Dartmouth Road.
“It’s no secret and I won’t go into a long discussion of this but … we’ve been promised a new library in old Bedford since 1996,” Bedford-Wentworth Coun. Tim Outhit said Tuesday.
Outhit asked for a staff report during the budget process in March “investigating options for the size of the Bedford waterfront library prior to proceeding with the Mill Cove Ferry Terminal.”
The original plan called for less than 15,000 square feet of library space at the terminal. The municipality has applied for federal money to build the terminal, $260 million, but that doesn’t include the cost of the library, which isn’t eligible for that type of funding.
Site suitable for ‘medium sized’ library
In Kachan’s report to council on Tuesday, she recommended a “medium sized” branch at 21,000 square feet.
“The space would include 2,500 SF of outdoor library space, 4,101 SF of shared public spaces between the Ferry Terminal and the Library (including public washrooms, a shared concourse, and other amenities), and 14,160 SF of dedicated interior library space to be located in the proposed Mill Cove Ferry Terminal building,” Kachan wrote.
“The early concept designs for the Library at Mill Cove propose an iconic waterfront structure that integrates elements of the natural environment in the design of the two-story building. The building will allow access from transit routes, vehicles or by an integrated mobility trail along the Bedford waterfront.”
The site isn’t suitable for a larger branch, Kachan wrote. That’s partially because “it is not in the centre of the densely populated residential areas requiring service, nor is it located within walking distance of elementary, junior high and high schools and other public amenities.”
There are access issues for the site, too. It requires an overpass over train tracks, will have limited parking for about 120 vehicles, and won’t be pedestrian-friendly.
“The access to the site presents barriers for individuals walking or wheeling,” Kachan wrote.
Despite those issues, Outhit said he was happy with the proposal.
“I’m very pleased with what’s been brought forward for this site,” he said.
Two options to fund library build
There’s $15 million in the long-term capital plan for the library, beginning in fiscal 2027-2028, and Kachan estimated operating costs of $723,000 annually.
Kachan presented two funding options: debt or tax increases. The total increase to the average tax bill over the next 10 years would be $49.34 if HRM didn’t use debt, and $60.20 if it did. The operating costs would add $7.23 to the average tax bill starting in fiscal 2025-2026.
Coun. Patty Cuttell asked whether those tax increases are automatically baked in if council approves the motion.
Crystal Nowlan, director of asset management, told council that if it finances the project through tax increases, that would start next year. If it uses debt, there’s no tax increase until 2025-2026. The municipality could also spread the debt over 20 years, not the 10 years contemplated in the report. Either way, councillors would debate the issue again during budget deliberations.
The whole project is contingent on federal funding for the ferry service and terminal, too. If the federal government doesn’t approve the funding, the municipality will have to build a new library elsewhere.
Nowlan said HRM anticipates it will hear back on the ferry funding in the next few months.
Council unanimously approved the motion to move ahead with planning and budgeting for the library if the funding is approved.