In public tours, Regina Public Library presents the case for a new central branch
Deep in the Regina Central Library basement are two boilers that are in constant need of repair.
Although either machine is capable of heating the downtown branch, if both were to fail during one of Saskatchewan’s infamous winters, the building would have to be evacuated.
“We are well beyond the normal lifespan of this equipment,” said Kevin Saunderson, general manager of the Regina Public Library (RPL)
This is one of many issues that continue to plague the location, leading the RPL board to vote recently to approve the construction of a new building.
Despite the vote, the final decision rests with Regina City Council, which will receive a report later this year outlining recommendations on several major projects proposed in the city.
The council will decide whether to support the creation of a new central branch or listen to community members who are calling for the existing facility to be repaired.
In an effort to sway the public, the RPL is hosting tours of Regina’s Central Library this week to show the long list of issues.
The media received a visit Tuesday morning, with Saunderson in the lead.
Boilers are one of the biggest problems, Saunderson said. The tubes inside corrode and crack and are difficult to replace.
Replacing the boilers would be a monumental task, he said. They are so large that Saunderson thinks the building was built around them.
They are located under the entrance to the library, which would have to be totally or partially demolished to remove the boilers from the building.
Although heating systems were once allowed to be built under entrances as part of building codes in the 1960s, this is no longer the case. This means that if the RPL were to update the building’s heating system, it would need to be moved to a location large enough to accommodate it.
With limited space in the installation, that would probably mean the roof of the building.
But the roof isn’t connected to the walls of the central library — it just rests on them — and itself needs repairs, Saunderson said. As a result, the library would likely have to build a superstructure to support the weight of the new heating system.
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The boilers are just one example of a systemic problem at the facility, Saunderson said, where RPL is pushed to the limit in an attempt to fix infrastructure and machinery that has been decades outdated.
« That’s where we are, sort of balancing the amount to invest for the next few years, not even knowing how long you’re going to be here, » he told the media.
The windows on one side of the building have been installed upside down to allow for the installation of decorative steel shutters, and insulation is non-existent in some places. Both of these problems allowed condensation and water to seep into the building, causing damage to the roof and walls.
Electrical infrastructure is also an issue, with the library spending $4,000 buying circuit breakers the last time they needed to be replaced. The escalator is so old that some spare parts need to be custom machined.
The building also has accessibility issues, which Saunderson says cannot be easily addressed within the building’s current footprint.
There are bathrooms in the basement and on the third floor, which are only accessible to people with reduced mobility via a single elevator. Meanwhile, the ramp leading into the building does not have the necessary grade and slope to meet building codes.
The cost of it all
Regina Central Library was built to serve a population of 110,000, while Regina’s population at the 2021 census was more than double that of 249,000.
As the city continues to grow, RPL says it wants to offer the services that are now standard among modern libraries, including expanded social programs and more digital education.
The idea is to demolish the existing building and build a new facility on the same land.
Building four stories and making better use of the land would provide nearly double the square footage, Saunderson said.
All of this comes at a price of around $125 million.
Some members of the community are opposed to the idea, as well as organizations like the Friends of the Regina Public Library, who would prefer to see the city preserve the library’s heritage and carry out repairs estimated at around $50 million.
These critics say the money saved would be better spent tackling homelessness or the lead pipe problem in Regina.
While the repairs would extend the life of the current building, they wouldn’t allow for more services, Saunderson said.
« We would continue to live with many of the problems that we have, » he said.
Asbestos reduction should also be addressed if the facility is to undergo renovations.
“The nature of the work that would need to be done in this building would not allow us to update the building while we occupy it. So even if we were to just do a renovation of the existing building, we would still have to move outside. for…a year more…maybe two years,” Saunderson said.