Times-Colonist: Library plans “in the works for some time”

This article doesn’t offer much that is new except to mention that engineers have been looking at the library since early 2006, and that the cost of the seismic upgrades may be $30 million. Whether that includes the conversion to office space is not known at this time. Time and FOI will tell…

Legislature library closing
Quake proofing could bring final chapter to marble institution. Politicians have their own ideas about what to do with the space.

Les Leyne
Times Colonist; with files from Times Colonist staff

Saturday, March 17, 2007

The history of government resides in the legislature library, an institution founded in 1863. Many of its holdings, which include millions of documents and microfilmed newspapers, will be heading to a warehouse.
CREDIT: Ray Smith, Times Colonist
The history of government resides in the legislature library, an institution founded in 1863. Many of its holdings, which include millions of documents and microfilmed newspapers, will be heading to a warehouse.

The B.C. legislature library is closing indefinitely for earthquake-proofing, amid widespread concern it won’t reopen.

The 29 staff in the 90-year-old building at the back of the legislature were told this week to prepare for a move. Half of them will be laid off, although they’ve been told work will be found elsewhere in the public service. Whether they will ever move back is still up in the air.

Much of the library’s holdings will be headed for a warehouse.

What happens after the historic building has been seismically upgraded still hasn’t been decided, Speaker Bill Barisoff said. A management committee that includes himself and members of the Liberal and NDP caucuses will make the final decision, he said.

But suspicion ran rampant yesterday that the politicians are planning a takeover of the marbled space for their own office use.

Barisoff confirmed that options under discussion include creating a reception area for official functions and more room for MLAs and staff.

The steady increase in the number of politicians who inhabit the buildings has made space allocation a perennial concern.

The number of MLAs has increased to 79 from 65 over the last 20 years. An electoral boundaries commission reviewing B.C. constituencies could increase that by another six.

Barisoff said the material stored in the warehouse will still be easily retrievable. A core collection of essential materials will be moved to another government building on Superior Street, just behind the legislature.

The law that established the library stipulates that it “must be kept conveniently near the legislative chamber.”

Barisoff said future use of the library building has to be decided and approved by a legislative management committee that includes MLAs from the Liberal and New Democrat caucuses.

“There will still be a library,” he said. “The only thing different will be the location of the books.”

The marble foyer features a 15 metre-high vaulted ceiling, under which resides the history of government going back to the Crown Colony of Vancouver Island. The library was founded in 1863 and includes millions of documents, microfilmed newspapers going back 100 years and a reading room. It primarily serves the needs of MLAs and their staff. The public is allowed in at specified times when the house isn’t sitting.

Former head librarian Joan Barton, who ran it for more than 30 years, said successive legislatures have ignored the space problems in the building.

“It was the optics. They were worried about building grand new offices for politicians.”

“Now they’re in crisis mode, and the premier’s office is driving this agenda.”

Premier Gordon Campbell and senior staff spent some time touring the library several weeks ago.

One of the arguments advanced is that much of the reference material is now available online, but Barton scorned that explanation.

“There is no such thing as ‘everything is on the Internet.’ When you say that to a librarian, they’re too polite to say so, but their first thought is: ‘I’m dealing with an idiot.'”

Barton accused Barisoff of “just going along” with the premier’s plan and failing to defend the legislature.

Barisoff said: “That’s the furthest thing from the truth.”

He said he’s been working with the premier’s office to advance a wholesale renovation of the building, because it would cost a significant amount. But much of the concept came from his office, he said.

NDP House Leader Mike Farnworth said nothing has been decided, but the issue of space is going to become more pressing if six more ridings are created. “We’re going to have to look at how we use the space.”

As for the legislature building itself, sources said last July that a plan had been in the works for some time and that an engineering firm had gone over the building several months previous to assess the need for a seismic upgrade.

The report has not been made public, but cost estimates apparently started at about $30 million. If a full-scale renovation was included, the price tag would likely double.
 

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