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Council calls for new downtown library plan

Council gave a small boost Monday to the long-delayed dream of building a new central library, although their new roadmap for a new facility could run afoul of library officials’ own plans.

Aldermen strongly endorsed Ald. Linda Fox-Mellway’s proposal to devise a new strategy for constructing a new central branch that had once been hotly anticipated for 2012 — but is now deemed on indefinite hold.

Building a new facility in the near future would quash the unseemly alternative: spending $53 million on necessary long-delayed major maintenance to the W.R. Castell main branch, and closing it down for 1 1/2 years to do so.

As part of the report due in December, city officials will study whether some of Calgary Public Library’s current main-branch functions can be housed elsewhere, potentially trimming the estimated $300 million costs of a brand-new downtown building.

It’s a possibility many aldermen have mused about. However, library CEO Gerry Meek told a council committee last month officials investigated using an off-site collections warehouse, and it wasn’t a sensible option.

The first half of the current W.R. Castell central branch was built nearly a half-century ago, for only $1.2 million. The north portion followed in the 1970s.

Even at the time, it was already nearing its full capacity, having been built for a city with a population of 400,000.

Although the city pledged $40 million toward a new library in 2004, funds from other levels of government, donors or sponsorships have largely eluded the library.

Fox-Mellway suggested the city likely knows the answers to many of the library’s planning and funding questions, but a report later this year will put it all together for the postelection council.

"It’s kind of like a handy document that will say where we are and where we want to go," said Ald. Joe Ceci, who isn’t running for re-election.

jmarkusoff@theherald.canwest.com

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