Protesters argue relocating West Kildonan Library to mall space threatens ‘sense of community’

About 100 people gathered outside West Kildonan Library on Tuesday to voice their concerns about a proposed city plan to move the library into a nearby mall.

A motion on whether to shutter the 55-year-old space on Jefferson Avenue, and relocate to nearby Garden City Shopping Centre, heads to the city’s executive policy committee Wednesday. If the committee approves, the matter then moves onto city council for a vote.

The protest drew West Kildonan residents, school division trustees and students from area schools who oppose the possible move.

Katelyn Panchoo, a Grade 9 school at the Seven Oaks Met School, recalled memories of her mother walking her to the library when she was five years old, then making similar trips there with Grade 2 classmates and so on through the years.

“Now imagine you’re almost 15 years old and you find out that the library that you grew up with is attempting to be moved to a dark corner in the Garden City mall, where it will have no windows and in my opinion will most likely feel (more) like a bookstore than a community library,” she said.

“The West Kildonan Library has always given me a sense of community. If it is put in Garden City Shopping Centre, I believe that it would lose that sense.”

Katelyn Panchoo said moving the library into the mall would threaten its sense of being a community space. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

The library space was gifted to the city in 1967 for Canada’s centennial. 

About a decade ago the city was planning to expand the library but changed plans in 2020. Garden City Shopping Centre, about a 30-minute walk away, was identified later as a suitable new home for the library.

A city report suggests the library needs repairs and the building is at the end of its life.

The coalition Friends of West Kildonan Library says the mall is too far from the current location.

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A protest on Tuesday drew West Kildonan residents, school division trustees and students from area schools who oppose the city’s plan to relocate the local library to the Garden City Shopping Mall.

Evan Krosney with the coalition said the mall space doesn’t match the city’s own criteria for library spaces, which includes a need for natural light.

The coalition is also worried that if the library is inside a mall, the mall’s management might have too much control over the space.

“If we sell this beautiful building behind me and relocate to a mall, we’re going to be spending $6 million in taxpayer money to lease a private space … and 10 years down the road we won’t have anything to show for that,” said Krosney.

About 100 people protest the potential relocation of the West Kildonan Library on Tuesday. The city maintains the building is at the end of its life, but the proposed new mall location is being panned by community members. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

The library is also surrounded by five nearby schools, and one of the most valuable elements of the building is its accessibility, said Krosney.

“It’s in a location that’s walkable, it’s in a location with plenty of parking next door, it’s in a location that is right on a neighbourhood greenway, which the city has been investing in to make more bicycle friendly,” said Krosney.

“As soon as you take a community staple like this and put it in a mall that’s far away, no one is going to be able to walk there.”

Greg McFarlane, Seven Oaks School Division board chair, said the board of trustees is firmly against the proposed plans.

Seven Oaks School Division board chair Greg McFarlane said if the city wants to shutter the West Kildonan Libary it should also commit to building the area brand new library space as it did in the case of River Heights, Windsor Park and Transcona when old libraries were decommissioned in those neighbourhoods. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

He called the Garden City space “second class” and urged the city to provide more funding for libraries in the growing northwest part of the city. 

“This library is an integral resource for our community and closing it would be a great loss for our students,” he said. “The city’s proposed plan to privatize this space would mean students will no longer walk to their local library. Meanwhile, it would mean public funds would be used to pad the pockets of a for-profit company.”

Local parent Beverly Mason grew up in the Kildonan Park area and attended schools nearby in the Seven Oaks School Division. 

She has been coming to the library off and on most of her life. She has raised three children and shared stories of being in the library with them.

“The staff here either know me by name or they recognize me and they’ve watched my children grow up over the years,” she said.

“We’ve always come to West Kildonan.”

Residents’ associations say relocating the West Kildonan library from Jefferson Avennue to Garden City Shopping Centre would mean taking away a public meeting space from an established neighbourhood. (Tyson Koschik/CBC)

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