How Truro Got Its Library

Source: Facebook (Click to enlarge)

During the recent CBRM general committee meeting about the current state of the new central library project, the subject of the new library in Truro was raised a number of times. I thought it would be worth looking at how the Town of Truro (population 12,000) managed to do what we here in the CBRM seem to find so challenging.

The first thing I discovered was that Truro is part of the larger Colchester East Hants Public Library system which has been supported — since 2001 — by the Colchester-East Hants Public Library Foundation.

The foundation raised $1 million towards the cost of furniture and fittings for the new library.

Might it not be a good idea to form a Cape Breton Regional Library Foundation and start fundraising? Wouldn’t that be a way to show the powers that be in Halifax and Ottawa that we are serious about this new central library?

Maybe the organizers could get some fundraising tips from the Cape Breton Regional Hospital Foundation which certainly seems to know how it’s done.

I also noted that the United Way of Colchester County was a “Platinum Sponsor” of the new library, donating $75,000.

That makes perfect sense to me, given the role libraries play in improving the lives of poor and marginalized members of society — the very people the United Way aims to help.

So the enterprising volunteers who launch the CBRL Foundation should be sure to hit up the United Way.

But what really jumped out at me from Truro’s experience is that their project was overseen by committees made up of elected councilors from the Town of Truro and the County of Colchester. One of those committees — the Joint Library Committee — called for proposals from developers for a branch library and regional HQ in Truro and that call produced two, equally interesting possibilities for the new library.

The process wasn’t without complications and controversy: it took much longer than I’d realized and the building chosen — the old Normal College — which now seems like a perfect fit, was actually ruled out more than once for what seem like valid reasons. (The same sort of reasons, I might note, given for not renovating the existing McConnell Library in Sydney.)

But the point is, the project was not entrusted to a private developer. The important decisions were made by the elected representatives of the two municipalities. That shouldn’t be remarkable, but in the context of the CBRM’s ridiculous approach to our library project, it is.

Here then, as best I could reconstruct it, is how Truro got its library:



The need for new space for the Regional Centennial Memorial Library and Headquarters in Truro (opened in 1968) is recognized. The Library Board proposes several options in the ’90s including:

  • Building expansion northward
  • Branch takes over the building and HQ moves to nearby leased space
  • Branch and HQ move to leased space at the back of the former vocational school
  • Branch and HQ move to leased space in the Old Hat Factory
  • Building expansion westward
  • Federal building (now Arlington Place) goes on the market and an independent study suggests it has potential for the library and HQ as an anchor occupant.

None of these options becomes reality at this time.



A number of “band-aid” solutions are introduced to deal with the need for space:

  • A garage is converted to offices and the circulation desk area is renovated to accommodate automated services; however, 11 years later, the converted garage space is vacated and sealed off due to air quality problems, and a small program room in the branch area and book storage space in HQ are retrofitted for two offices and four staff cubicles;
  • The rear public entrance is closed off, first, to create a small storage area and, later, to convert into a small, cupboard-sized office for two;
  • Half the auditorium is taken to create a computer lab and the reduced meeting space is renamed the community room.


Regional Centennial Memorial Library building in Truro, N.S.

Regional Centennial Memorial Library building in Truro, N.S. (Source: CBC)


The Library Board approaches the Town of Truro to ask about using the Old Normal College as a library and regional headquarters. This leads to a Town/Library Board-funded study by John K. Dobbs and Associates and Facility Planners which concludes the Normal College is not suitable.

(The Normal College, which opened in 1878, was designed by Halifax architect Henry Busch and if it reminds you of a similar building on Brunswick Street in Halifax, that’s because he designed the Halifax building — the Halifax Academy – too. Bonus fact: he also designed the bandstand in the Halifax Public Gardens.)

9 November 2001

The Colchester-East Hants Public Library Foundation is established.



The Library Board suggests the regional HQ should occupy part of the Normal College with a physical link to a new branch facility on the old fire hall site. This leads the town to fund a concept for a combined branch/HQ building on the old fire hall site by Halifax-based McKay-Lyons Sweetapple Architects. The process includes extensive consultations with town and library officials and the public.



The Joint Truro/Library Board committee chooses a company to conduct a capital campaign feasibility study, but the Town is unable to finance it.



March 2010

The Town of Truro issues a request for proposals for a suitable place for a library. Two proposals are received: the old Normal College by L&R Construction Ltd. and the Old Hat Factory by The Snook Group.

The joint Truro/Library Board Committee selects the Snook Group proposal for design development and price negotiation but they stall over cost concerns.



June 2011

A joint Colchester/Truro Construction Committee requests the library board convey its facility needs to L&R Construction, and a study is conducted into the Normal College which concludes it will cost about $3.5 million to renovate.

The committee reports the Normal College would be too small to house both a central library and its regional headquarters. It is suggested the top floor of the old fire hall be used for the regional headquarters.

1994 stamp, Provincial Normal School, Truro

August 2011

The Snook Group, which had been planning to lease the revamped Old Hat Factory to the Town of Truro, agrees to offer the town an option to purchase the new library for $9 million.

(Kirk MacCulloch of Fairwyn Developments Limited writes an op-ed in the Truro Daily News in response to ongoing debate over the choice of library location.)

September 2011

L&R hires Dale Archibald of Archibald & Fraser Architects Ltd to assess the Normal College and top floor of the fire hall.

6 December 2011

The Archibald report finds major safety, size and functional deficiencies in the Old Normal College and notes the detrimental effects, in terms of efficiency and ongoing operating costs, of separating branch and HQ functions.



January 2012

The joint Colchester/Truro committee drafts a new Request for Proposals (RFP) for space in the downtown to accommodate the branch library and HQ.

That same month, Colchester commits $2.25 million to the project and the Truro Daily News carries a story under the headline, “Old Normal College not a good option for new library, say board members,” in which Janet Pelley, director of the Colchester East Hants Public Library and secretary of the library board says architectural reports indicate the Normal College is not an option for “safety reasons, size and cost effectiveness.”

Pelley says other issues with the Normal College “indicate the space is smaller than required, its configuration over four floors creates operation and staffing issues, and there would be significant costs to structural upgrades, including making it a barrier free accessible building.”

“’The new cost would be closer to $6 to $8 million,’ added Pelley.”

Pelley plumps for the Old Hat Factory location at the corner of Prince and Court streets in Truro.

Snook Group concept for Old Hat Factory, Truro.

March 2012

Colchester and Truro develop a memorandum of understanding (MOU) to articulate their respective roles and responsibilities prior to issuing the Request for Proposals. Colchester will contribute $2.2 million and Truro about $5 million to a library expected to cost $7 million.

[Note: I cannot find any reference to Truro or Colchester seeking federal or provincial funding for the library. I have asked the CAO of the Town of Truro to enlighten me on this and will update as soon as I receive a reply. UPDATE: I received a reply — there was no provincial or federal funding involved in the library project.]



12 July 2013

L&R Construction submits a proposal to redevelop the Normal College, which project manager Leo Rovers of L&R says “may be our most important heritage building in town.”

L&R’s team includes MacKay-Lyons Sweetapple Architects, whose credits include the University of Toronto Library and the Kentville Library; PDI Engineering Group, whose credits include the MacRae Library (at the Dalhousie Agricultural College in Truro); and MCW Maricor, a mechanical and electrical firm whose credits include the Commons/Library at the University of New Brunswick, the Centennial Library in Winnipeg and the City Library in North Vancouver.



The Snook Group, based in Truro and working in cooperation with Fairwyn Developments, which seems to specialize in P3 projects, submits a plan for the Old Hat Factory in Truro.

I can’t find a detailed submission online, but you can see the site plans in this Library Board assessment of the two proposals:



24 July 2013

A stakeholders meeting — not open to the public — is held to consider the two proposals.

7 August 2013

The Library Board releases its assessment (posted above) of the L&R Construction (Normal College) and Snook Group (Hat Factory) options as follows:

  • the Hat Factory offers more square footage and usable space at a lower cost
  • the design work on the Hat Factory is “virtually complete” whereas the Normal College proposal is a “broad-strokes concept” which would require “considerable consultation and design work to see if the concept is even viable.”
  • the Hat Factory site has parking spots for 2 library vehicles and 40 cars whereas the Normal College proposal provides no specific parking plans.
  • the Snook Group says it will subdivide its land and deed the designated parcel to the town; the Normal College proposal requires approval to build an addition on heritage building and to use museum land to accommodate it.
  • the Hat Factory site has potential for future expansion; the Normal College site does not;

Here’s the cost comparison (click to enlarge):


5 September 2013

The Joint Library Committee meets to discuss two proposals for the new library:

A motion is made to recommend the Normal College proposal, but is defeated in a tie vote.

The Colchester and Truro councils will be advised at their September meetings that the committee was unable to reach a decision.

21 September 2013

Both the Normal College and the Hat Factory sites are opened for public tours on Saturday and the Truro Daily News reports about 200 people turned up in each location. Opinion is divided as to the best option for the new library.

26 September 2013

The library project is discussed during the regular session of the Colchester Municipal Council. The CAO advises that the MOU for Library Capital and Operating Costs will expire on 30 September 2013 and the Town of Truro is requesting an extension to 15 October 2013.

Members of the Library Committee (Councilors Geoff Stewart and Karen MacKenzie) tell council they prefer the Old Hat Factory option for the library and council subsequently votes in favor of the Hat Factory location. It also votes to extend the MOU to 30 October 2013.

7 October 2013

Truro Town Council awards the contract for the construction of the new regional library in the Old Normal College to L&R Construction. The Town posts the details of the announcement on Facebook:

1) The award is subject to the Town and L&R Construction entering into a legally binding contract;
2) If the Municipality of the County of Colchester agrees to contribute funds to the project as set out in the MOU of April 2013 between the Town and the County, the award is at a price of $7.1 million in accordance with L&R Construction’s proposal, provided that:
a) reasonable efforts are made, within the $7.1 million budget, to ensure that concerns and suggestions of the Library Board and library staff are addressed during the design and construction phases.
3) Alternatively, if the County of Colchester does not contribute to the project or contributes less than the amount set out in the MOU, the award to L&R Construction is conditional on the Town and L&R negotiating a new scope of work and price to reduce the overall cost of the project.

17 October 2013

During the regular meeting of the Council Committee of the Municipality of Colchester, Councilor MacKenzie reports that Truro has voted to go ahead with the Normal College plan for the new library. The committee goes into closed session to discuss this development and comes out to pass a motion to recommend that council renegotiate the conditions of its Capital and Operating Costs MOU with the Town of Truro.

30 October 2013

Colchester Municipal Council votes to renegotiate the MOU with the Town of Truro for the new regional library and appoints the mayor and two councilors to the Library Construction Committee.



16 January 2014

Colchester Council approves the second MOU for the new regional library. (According to this 13 May 2015 article from the Truro Daily News, the county agrees to fund 40% of the costs up to a maximum of $2.2 million.)

27 March 2014

Colchester Council approves the awarding of the construction contract for the new regional library to L&R Construction in accordance with its MOU with the Town of Truro.

3 April 2014

Plans for the proposed new public library are unveiled by the architects from MacKay-Lyons Sweetapple Architects.

9 May 2014

The Colchester-East Hants Public Library posts a video showing work underway in the Normal College.



11 May 2015

During a meeting of Truro Town Council, the CAO advises that there is an opportunity to build a basement under the extension to the Normal College (which is being added as part of its conversion to a library). The original plan called for a frost wall and no basement, but staff recommends a plan that will add additional meeting rooms, heated storage and public washrooms for $190,096. Council approves the extra expenditure.

Council is advised that it should apply to the Heritage Ministry for federal funding for the library.

The CAO also notes that the Normal College had had a spire that burnt in the 1950s and council agreed to install the infrastructure for a future spire, at a cost of $30,000 and $7,500 for engineering.

4 August 2015

The Colchester-East Hants Public Library Foundation kicks off a $1 million fundraising campaign for furniture and supplies for the new library.

The foundation offers naming rights and runs bookplate and seat-naming campaigns as well as holding 50/50 draws every two weeks.

December 2015

A public meeting is held to discuss plans for a “Civic Square” to occupy the roughly 2 acres that will open up in front of the Normal College when the old library is demolished.



27 April 2016

ACOA agrees to make a $736,718 non-repayable contribution to Truro’s Civic Square Fund through the Innovative Communities Fund. The total cost of the project — which includes a seasonal ice rink — is $1.5 million. The Town of Truro will contribute $500,000 and the Downtown Truro Partnership will kick in $30,000 plus $35,000 in-kind (based on executive director Debbie Elliot’s work on the proposal).

13 June 2016

The tender for the development of Civic Square is awarded to Tracey’s Landscaping.

29 September 2016

The new library opens. The final price tag for the 19,814 square-foot library, spread over two floors, is is $7.8 million. The final cost-sharing arrangement is $2.5 million from the County and the rest from the Town of Truro (as noted above, there was no federal provincial money involved in the library itself). The renovated building serves not only as a library, but as a catalyst for downtown development in Truro.



Truro’s Civic Square earns the No. 2 spot on the Great Places in Canada’s 2017 list of best-loved public spaces.



4 October 2018

Parks Canada declares Truro’s Old Normal College a National Historic Site.



Civic Square Skating Rink, Truro


Featured image: Truro Library interior. (Source: McKay-Lyons Sweetapple Architects)