'Let's get this done the right way': Saskatoon city council mulls downtown library redesign
Christina Martens-Funk has used a wheelchair for nearly 30 years, where getting around Saskatoon streets can be a chore no matter the time of year.
The library board is aiming for the new central library to become the first library to receive Rick Hansen Foundation Accessibility Certification. Martens-Funk says she hopes the city council doesn't introduce a new obstacle.
"These days if I want to go anywhere, I have to plan for supports for the poorly designed infrastructure," Martens-Funk, an employee of Inclusion Saskatchewan and member of the accessibility advisory committee for the new Saskatoon Central Library, said.
"It's 2023 and we all know better, so please, let's get this done the right way."
Saskatoon Public Library approached the city Wednesday to try and redesign the new downtown library's plans.
The problem for city councillors mulling over the ask from the library is not to meet or exceed accessibility at a building that's expected to be used more than SaskTel Centre -- councillors are in agreement there.
However, rebuilding the street infrastructure is not part of the library's budget, meaning the money must come from somewhere, and Coun. Randy Donauer says that's the problem.
"We can't just say yes to everything, and this is not our project. I'm sorry, but if any another builder came in and said 'We want this, but we want you to modify the street and pay for it,' it would be a non-starter,'" Donauer said.
The library wants to redesign the area outside of the library building to include barrier-free access as well as two dedicated accessible parking stalls and dedicated pick-up and drop-off zones for school buses and Access Transit. To do so, crews would have to rip up the sidewalks and perhaps some of the street adjacent to the new library on 2nd Avenue between 24th Street and 25th Street.
With many major downtown projects on the horizon for the city over the next 10 years, some councillors are seeing it as a chance to reshape downtown, while others are seeing it as a late add-on to a project that's been in the works for years and is now just a few months away from construction.
"It's about an opportunity to take a first step in acknowledging and embracing the fact that our downtown is not accessible," Coun. Hilary Gough said. "Taking the opportunity to dig into the public realm at this site can be a first step in making sure we know how to get it right for future redevelopments in our downtown."
The city administration has some concerns of its own, like rebuilding just one block along Second Ave between 24th Street and 25th Street. Administration also has an eye on the City Centre Plan, a four-phase project planning for downtown as the city looks to grow to a population of 500,000.
The City Centre Plan has identified 2nd Avenue North between Spadina Crescent East and 26th Street East as a "pedestrian priority street," according to a report from administration.
The administration also highlighted the potential loss of driving lanes, down from four to two, and the possibility that drivers might be confused by a road design that applies to just one block.
"We have budget consideration at the end of the year and it's only January 25, and we've already put quite a few things to our budget at the end of the year," Coun. Bev Dubiois said.
"It's going to be a nightmare for us at the end of the year."
No matter the concerns, Coun. Sarina Gersher feels the city is being given an opportunity, not a problem.
"I don't want the city to be the reason that folks have barriers for access," Gersher said.
Council ultimately voted to study a redesign of the street with SPL covering the $175,000 cost, but further debates about the redesign are expected at budget deliberations at the end of the year.
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