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'Finally ... putting shovels in the ground': After much ado, Saskatoon central library project kicks off


Saskatoon's new central library is officially taking shape.

Tuesday marked the first step towards opening with a ground breaking ceremony at the corner of 2nd Avenue and 25th Street as dozens of people watched on during a rainy morning downtown.

"Hey, we're going to build the public library!" an excited Mayor Charlie Clark said.

"Let's celebrate. We are finally, on this day, putting shovels in the ground. Holy! I am so happy."

Getting here was anything but easy for the many people who had a hand in building a new library. The rain that fell over the ceremony befit the arduous process, rife with delays and hurdles, since talks about replacing the Frances Morrison library started over a decade ago.

Knowledge keeper Eugene Arcand had a different take on the symbolic meaning of the weather.

"It's raining today because it comes to clean this place. It's like washing a baby. You get it ready for whatever is going to come," Arcand said.

Many spoke of the significance of the ground breaking, and what the new central library will mean to the community for decades to come.

"I'm just very gratified and honored to be here during this period in the history," Saskatoon Public Library interim CEO Beth Coté said. "This this is just a historic moment where there will be many leaders after me as well."

Conversations for a new library started in earnest when the library board began saving for construction in 2009 by splitting its own portion of property tax between the construction project and its operations budget.

After identifying potential sites and eventually landing on the site at 2nd Avenue, the project became a point of scrutiny during the 2020 civic election as some candidates wondered about the cost of the project during the COVID-19 pandemic when the economy was anything but certain.

Last September, the library board paused the project as it looked for a construction manager, and a tender for construction was cancelled when bids came in significantly over the $134 million budget.

Ledcor Construction was chosen as the project manager, tasked with redesigning the project to get it within the previously agreed upon budget. Tuesday marks the beginning of the remediation work required on the site before construction begins in the fall.

With all of that behind her, Coté feels the project is back on track.

"We're very confident that we're on very good footing with this project at this time. The pandemic caused a lot of different challenges for the entire construction industry, so it wasn't unusual for us to find that our project became one that was sort of tied up in some of those challenges," she said.

The schematic design for Saskatoon’s new central library was released in January 2022. (Saskatoon Public Library)

With the site previously occupied by a gas station, laundromat and other businesses over the year, Coté said some of the remediation work will involve removing soil on the site before construction moves in.

Library board chair Jim Siemens said because of the planning and funding reserve, the average holder will see a planned levy increases of less than two dollars over in the next two years.

"That means that by the time we open the doors in 2027, there will be no further tax increases to fund this build, which is huge," Siemens said.

The remaining money comes from land sale proceeds, donations and $67.5 million in borrowing, according to SPL.

The Frances Morrison library at 311 23rd Street East was built in 1966. The library board and its staff identified plenty of issues with the aging building in recent years, when renovations became too costly.

The building was eventually sold in early 2023. SPL said at the time that it would continue to operate until closer to the opening of the new central branch.

With construction delayed and the new tenants set to move into the building in 2026, it's unclear how the city’s library services will be impacted.

To accommodate the budget, SPL said the new library will be smaller than originally designed, mainly by reducing employee and other non-public spaces. The tipi design on the exterior was simplified, but will remain. Timber structures inside the building will also remain in a modified form.

"This is not a nice to have," Clark said. "This is a project that needs to happen and has been needed for a long time."

The downtown central library is scheduled to open in 2027. Top Stories

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