Library versus Sports Complex?

I hope many of you tuned into Wendy Bergfeldt’s afternoon show (CBC Mainstreet Cape Breton) last Thursday and were just as surprised as I was to hear that the CBRM is seriously considering a sports complex add-on to Centre 200 rather than a new central library. I admit that it took me a few minutes to realize what, exactly, was under discussion considering that meetings and consultations on the part of our municipal and legislative politicians and other interested parties were apparently kept under wraps, with no information being presented to voters.

CBRM Centre 200

Centre 200.

Requests for federal funding for the Centre 200 expansion (as the deadline for applying for such funding edges closer) will be made after a feasibility study on the project, recently approved by council, is undertaken, although three such studies with regard to a new library have already been done to the tune of $200,000 with really nothing to show for the money. According to Mayor Amanda McDougall, though, the province is not keen on dishing out funds for a new library, meaning that education and child development might very well lose out to a 47,800-square foot sports facility and the “economic benefits” it may bring.

Sydney-Whitney Pier MLA — and Education and Early Childhood Development Minister — Derek Mombourquette, who spoke to Bergfeldt, said it was up to CBRM to choose a project to endorse while allowing that he, personally, has been involved with the Centre 200 project for many years. But he also served on the library board, and presumably believes in the need for a new central library, making one wonder why he didn’t use his influence to get the province on board with the library plan?

Mike Kelloway, MP for Cape Breton Canso, who has sat in on meetings regarding the CBRM’s potential projects under the federal “Green and Inclusive Community Buildings” funding stream, told Bergfeldt the municipality may put forward two or three projects (and that they could include the new CBU science building) but I think we are all aware that there is only so much money available, so having a group strong enough to push forward a plan for the library would definitely be a tremendous asset. I would add that Bergfeldt pushed Kelloway twice to say whether the library had been given a solid “No,” and his answer, both times, was a solid “No.”

 

There are many questions to be answered about the entire process and how it has played out over the past few years. This Centre 200 addition seems to have been kept on the back burner, with little public discussion, while a group of local sports enthusiasts has been working to fulfil their dream of such a facility.

I remember when former-Mayor Cecil Clark suggested attaching the library to Centre 200, a location that met with resistance because of its proximity to the casino. Bergfeldt asked Mombourquette about locating what is being billed as a family-friendly sports facility next to the casino, and he admitted that the same questions would likely be raised, but no doubt supporters of the build are working on their answers as we speak.

I can’t believe a lack of ice surfaces and basketball courts in CBRM is a legitimate reason for building a new sports complex, given the dozens of pictures of local youths which have appeared in the Cape Breton Post over the past few weeks. Hundreds of kids are now involved in these sports and obviously have ice surfaces and basketball courts on which to practice and play, many of which CBRM dollars have helped build and maintain. Are there no longer gyms in our schools or did they disappear when COVID hit?

And why is news of this behind-the-scenes project being made public at this particular time? Could it possibly be that we are in a lock down and marches or protests are off the menu?

If I sound like a conspiracy theorist, I blame the secrecy surrounding these matters which lends itself to conspiracy theories. Like, was the installation of air conditioning at the McConnell last year an indication that a new library had been moved down — or even off — the list of possible projects for the CBRM? And why was an offer from the late Leo Curry of property on George Street for a library refused?

 

I wasn’t encouraged by Mayor McDougall’s statement to the CBC’s Tom Ayers:

We are still moving forward on what we need to do to get a new central library. That has not stopped. We simply knew that a new-build of 40-some-odd million dollars with really no appetite from the provincial and federal government means that we have to look at that and change it around a bit.

She also seemed to express a preference for a Centre 200 addition, citing concerns regarding a lack of “court space,” pointing out that the Bicentennial Gym in Sydney had been used, but is old, outdated, cold and not really suitable anymore.

McConnell Library Interior, Sydney, NS

Interior, McConnell Library.

The same could (and has) been said of the McConnell library. In fact, these are the exact reasons why the McConnell should be replaced with a building better equipped to provide the many services the facility provides, both as a branch library and as the headquarters of the regional system.

Although library members and other concerned citizens have long assisted the board in raising the 3% of its annual budget for which it is responsible, no great fundraising campaign has been launched to ask citizens to contribute to the cost of a new library. Many of those calling for the McConnell’s replacement seem to have gone silent recently, probably because of a growing conviction that theirs are voices calling out in the wilderness. This feeling will only become more prevalent now that the Centre 200 project has suddenly been put in the spotlight.

An “Adopt a Book” program, as outlined in last Saturday’s Cape Breton Post, allows anyone wishing to assist the Cape Breton Regional Library (CBRL)  financially to do so -– choose a book of any genre or merely make a financial donation and allow the staff to decide on the book. (Call 902-562-3279 or visit the CBRL website.) This is a program that has been part of the library’s fundraising since 1998, but perhaps now is the time for supporters of a new and expanded building to put our money where our mouth is. It’s also time to let our elected representatives — CBRM councilors, provincial MLAs and federal MPs — know that we are serious in our pursuit of a new facility. So:

Please take the time to make your voices heard.

 

 

Dolores Campbell, a lifelong resident of Sydney, is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in The Cape Breton Highlander, the Nova Scotian, Cape Breton Magazine, Catholic New Times and The Cape Breton Post.