For more than 40 years it served as a hub of community learning and recreation, filled with the sounds of pages turning on the latest bestsellers and the hushed whispers of children studying. But for nearly four years even those faintest of sounds have fallen silent.
The old Emily Carr Library branch closed its doors in December 2013, with the collection of 30,000 or so books transported across Blanchard Street to its new location in Uptown. Since that time, the 9,248 square foot facility at 3500 Blanchard has sat vacant and lifeless, save for a few elves from Santa’s Anonymous which has been using the building for storage, and members of the local transient population who often congregate on its front stairs.
“A number of developers have shown interest in the building but nothing serious has really been considered,” said Mayor Richard Atwell.
The area, including the adjacent Munro Centre, is zoned C-5 Civic Core, with a maximum height of 37 metres. Atwell believe the best outcome would be for the former library branch to form part of a larger commercial/residential development.
“I think, personally, it would be more beneficial from a planning point of view to have the whole core developed by one property owner,” he said.
There was a time when the building still fit into the district’s plans. Saanich had initially intended to use the two-storey structure as additional office space for Saanich Police.
“The renovations came in at three times the original estimate, and it wasn’t deemed financially viable for the taxpayers to do that,” said Atwell.
Saanich Police instead renovated the building at 57 Cadillac Ave. for their extra space. That left the old library branch continuing to gather dust, and accumulate debt. While the district leases the facility out to the non-profit group for $1 a year, the operating costs for 2016 totalled $24,222 for utilities and maintenance.
Atwell doesn’t see the building fit with the district’s future plans, but says that will likely be determined in connection with the facilities master plan which should see a draft report make its way to council this fall.
“Council has to take some initiative to do something with it, because it’s a costly item,” he said. “We’re on the way to figuring that out, we just haven’t quite come to a conclusion on the direction yet.”