Federal decision on super-library may not come until end of year: library board chair

The city may not know until the end of the year whether the federal government will enter into a partnership for a super-library in downtown Ottawa, according to the chair of the Ottawa Public Library board.

Tierney admits library staff and board may have been 'very optimistic' on timeline

The Ottawa Public Library is hoping to partner with Library and Archives Canada to build a super-library at 557 Wellington St. that promises to offer great views of the Ottawa River, while also occupying a prime location in the city's skyline. (Ottawa Public Library)

The city may not know until late this year whether the federal government will enter into a partnership for a super-library in downtown Ottawa, according to the chair of the Ottawa Public Library board.

"At this point we're going to see what happens, we've got to wait until the feds come back if we're partnering or not," Coun. Tim Tierney, who chairs the library board, said after Tuesday evening's meeting. 

"I'm feeling very positive about it still, and we'll find out later on towards the end of the year … it is truly up to the federal government at this point."

Council funding of project delayed indefinitely

In February, council approved a plan for a $168-million super library that would combine a city central branch and federal archives in a single 216,000-square-foot complex at city-owned land at 557 Wellington St., on the eastern edge of LeBreton Flats. The city is to pay $99 million for 133,000 square feet of space, while the federal government would contribute $69 million.

The city finance and economic development committee was supposed to consider a funding strategy for the library at its meeting this month, with full council signing off on the money for the project at its last meeting before summer break in mid-July.

The schedule for the financing decision is now up in the air.  As well, councillors were supposed to hear about a parking plan — which is not included in the $168-million budget — for the new central library in March. That plan has also not materialized.

Maybe we were very optimistic in our thinking about the timelines.- Tim Tierney

Neither Tierney nor library CEO Danielle McDonald could say whether the delay in the federal decision-making would change the overall timeline for the project. The ground-breaking for the combined library-archives is supposed to be next spring.

However, the chair did admit that the timeline the library board and staff adopted was too sunny. 
Coun. Tim Tierney, who chairs the Ottawa Public Library board, said the city was likely too optimistic in its timeline for the project. (CBC News)

"Maybe we were very optimistic in our thinking about the timelines," Tierney said. "That being said, we've got to give allowances to the government, we've got to give them a bit of rope, and see if the opportunity exists. I feel very positive about it, but we're simply not there at this point."

City won't move ahead on its own — yet

McDonald pointed out that some aspects of the project are still moving ahead, the most important of which is a request for qualifications, which closes at the end of this month. But that RFQ is based on the presumption that the city is partnering with the federal archives.

Although the council approved a back-up plan to build a central library on its own, the city is waiting for a federal decision.

"We wll not move ahead until we can find out whether there is an opportunity for a relationship or not," Tierney said. 

According to an emailed statement from Library and Archives spokesman Richard Provencher, the delay is due to the complexities on governance, ownership and operations for this "unprecedented" collaboration between the municipal and federal governments.

"It is just taking us a bit longer than we had originally anticipated," wrote Provencher.

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