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Calgary eyes integrating affordable housing with public library

Although one city councillor is talking about big plans for the city’s next library upgrade, questions about when the project might go ahead is holding up a community association’s dreams of expansion.

Earlier this month, Coun. Druh Farrell noted on Twitter that the plans for upgrades to the Louise Riley Library in Houndsfield Heights-Briar Hill include integrating affordable housing.

In an interview with LiveWire, Farrell said Louise Riley Library is the next priority for the library system, and that they want to include a number of things in the site build, including affordable housing, and a space for the community association.

“We’ve done a bit of site planning,” said Farrell. “It’s beyond just discussion.”

She described the site as a bit of a dog’s breakfast, with many buildings scattered on a single property along with a recreation field.

She stressed that the field will remain, but everything else could be combined.

“We recognize the potential to bring these uses together and add housing and use the site better but also have new facilities for all the users,” said Farrell.

According to Farrell, the site is an ideal one for affordable housing because of its proximity to an LRT station and nearby amenities such as the North Hill Shopping Centre.

Calgary has an integrated civic facilities policy, which looks to combine separate facilities when opportunities arise, including with other levels of government and the private sector.

It’s based on a facilities management rule of thumb that capital investment in any facility is only about 10 per cent of the total cost of ownership, when compared with the remaining 90 per cent of maintenance, operational and renewal costs over the lifetime of the building.

Farrell said that she was hoping to see funding for the library in November’s budget, but it wasn’t forthcoming.

“It’s considered a priority for the city and its an amazing location for affordable housing and founding in general, so we had hoped for some capital funding in this budget, but we’ll continue to look for funding.”

However that delay in funding is holding up the plans for the Houndsfield Heights-Briar Hill Community Association, which has its building next to the current library.

Carol Sandahl, first vice president for the community association, said they’ve been wanting to build an extension onto their current building, and they even have the funds to do it.

“I feel like they’re kind of dangling us on a string,” she said.

The community association wants to build a bigger space onto their current building, which has a gymnasium and a small boardroom.

A larger space could accommodate more community activities, and generate income through rentals.

She said they went as far as getting an architect to draw up plans for an expansion, but the city keeps telling them to hold off and wait for the larger plan.

“It’s all these little carrots for years,” said Sandahl. “How solid are their plans? Even this last time it was – wait until November, and then we’ll hear it.”

A spokesperson for the Calgary Public Library said they are still in the early stages and had no comments or details to share about the plan at this time.

LiveWire also asked to speak to someone from the city about the plans. Nobody was made available for an interview, but a spokesperson said in an email that a feasibility study is in the preliminary stages and a formal plan has not been approved.

Sandahl said she’s been in told the library is in the process of drawing up plans for the site, but that’s all she knows.

“We’re definitely open to talking to them,” she said. “We’ve got to know more and we want to be more involved for sure.”