Rob Norris wants proposed new downtown library shelved

Saskatoon mayoral candidate Rob Norris says now is not the time for a new downtown library due, in part, to the impact of COVID-19 on the city’s finances. Devon Latchuk / Global News

Another Saskatoon mayoral candidate is calling for the shelving of a new downtown library.

Rob Norris says the impact of COVID-19 on the city’s finances and the current tax burden makes the proposed $132-million project unfeasible.

“There is no arguing that we want a new library downtown as the current facility is near its end of life. There is also no argument that a new library ought to serve the needs of all Saskatoon citizens,” Norris said Friday in a statement.

“But at $132 million this standalone downtown library is gold-plated and at least $80-100 million over budget. I can’t in good conscience support this project because of its sky-high price.”

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He joins mayoral candidates Cary Tarasoff and Zubair Sheikh, who both say the project should not go ahead.

Tarasoff said a new library is unnecessary given the economic challenges posed by the coronavirus pandemic.

“Stop the grand schemes, which are going to drive us further into debt,” Tarasoff said on Aug. 14 when he launched his campaign.

Sheikh said while he supports libraries, providing cheaper internet to students and their families would have a greater positive impact on their education.

“We have to consider how many people go to the library and how many people will benefit from this $67.5 million,” Sheikh told Global News on Aug. 12.

In a report issued in September 2019, the Saskatoon Public Library said the current downtown location has become too small and can no longer meet the needs of the community.

The library proposed a new building of 149,000 square feet — almost double the size of the current building — at an estimated cost of $154 million.

The city has purchased land at a cost of $9 million for a new central library to replace Frances Morrison Central Library.

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During city budget deliberations in November 2019, council approved allocating $67.5 million for the proposed building, $20 million less than originally requested by the library board.

Norris said the services the central library offers are important for Saskatoon families, but said his concerns are over the costs.

“COVID has irrevocably changed the way we live, work, study and learn, and it would be simply irresponsible for the city to move ahead with a new library project that costs over $130 million,” Norris said.

“As a city, and really as a province and country, we are now in a position of asking about what we truly need, instead of what we want.”

Saskatoon voters are scheduled to head to the polls on Nov. 9 for the municipal election.

Click to play video: 'Saskatoon Public Library proposes new $154M downtown building'
Saskatoon Public Library proposes new $154M downtown building

— With files from Nathaniel Dove and Anna McMillan


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