–Britt Santowski, SPN
Despite borrowing $1.42 million to purchase 5.2 acres along Wadams Way for a new library in early 2016, Sooke CAO Teresa Sullivan recently said that SEAPARC was being considered as the new location for the Sooke Library.
The District of Sooke appears to have abruptly abandoned building a new library in the downtown core (Wadams Way). On February 3, the District posted a letter the Vancouver Island Regional Library (VIRL), explaining the change of heart.
This letter, dated on January 27 and signed by Sullivan (see bottom of article), states that while Sooke would like to have a facility at the recently purchased 5.26 acres on Wadams Way, the District would not be able to “subsidize” the costs of clearing and readying it for construction.
“Should the Vancouver Island Regional Library Board wish to pursue a library facility on Lot A,” stated the letter, “the land is available in its current state.”
David Carson, Communication Manager at VIRL, said that the project at Lot A “became too cost prohibitive” for the Library to consider after the costs of clearing and pre-development came to light.
Carson also told SPN that the 2015 Expression of Interest VIRL submitted to the District did specify “shovel-ready land.”
Shortly after penning the letter to VIRL, on February 1, 2017, Sullivan announced to members of the Sooke Rotary that the library could move to SEAPARC.
Carson confirmed that VIRL was still in discussion with the District, and SEAPARC was being considered as an alternative location. Emphasizing they are still in the early stages, VIRL is envisioning a separate stand-alone facility next to the recreation centre.
Background of the Lot A land purchase for the new library
In March of 2015, the District of Sooke purchased Lot A, 2125 Anna Marie Rd. for $1,420,000 specifically to house the new library (1). Minutes from a February 22, 2016 in-camera (closed doors) council meeting show that Council authorized the Mayor (Kerrie Reay was acting mayor at the time, and also sat as a Library Trustee) and the CAO (Sullivan) to sign the offer to purchase.
The funds were secured through a short term (five-year) loan from the Municipal Finance Authority (MFA (2)) at a Special March 21, 2016 Council meeting; repayment would come from surplus funds until 2020 (3). The then-acting mayor presiding over this meeting was Rick Kasper. Elected mayor Maja Tait was not scheduled to return until April 1, 2016.
Visions of space danced in their heads
The need for a new library facility exists. According to the above release from VIRL, the Sooke Library currently is 3,900 square feet. It was recommended that the facilities, which serves a population of about 17,000, be at least 10,000 – 12,000 square feet.
When the purchase and jointly driven relocation of the Library was first announce, Councillor and Library Trustee Kerrie Reay said “the District of Sooke and the Vancouver Island Regional Library (VIRL) can now take the next steps toward building a new library for Sooke.”
Reay had great visions for this space at the time of purchase.
“I see this as a great fit for a new library, and the learning and community gathering opportunities that come with it,” the release quoted Reay as saying. “I estimate that about 80% of the property will be available for other uses. There are many great things we can do with the remainder of this property, and this land acquisition will be held for future partnerships,”
Objections to the purchase
There have been some in the community who were concerned about the apparent lack of due diligence prior to the purchase.
Gail Hall spoke at the March 21 special meeting when the loan was approved, indicating that she wanted this to be presented as a bylaw. Bylaws have to go through several readings, and are open to scrutiny by the public.
In a letter to SPN, Ellen Lewers, president of the Sooke Fall Fair and owner and operator of Mrs. Lewers Farm, wrote, “Council also voted to purchase a swamp land property of over five acres, with a riparian area on it … without an engineering report, costs of preparing the site for building (ie blasted rock and fill), how deep footings would need to be etc. The land is just a part of the cost, but developing is not feasible. That is why other prominent developers side-stepped that property.”
At an October 20, 2016 meeting, half a year after the land was purchased, the minutes of the Sooke Community Centre Advisory Committee hesitated to provide advice on the property.
“It was noted that it is impossible to give solid advice on the Wadams Way property until an engineering/geologic study of the acreage is completed,” read the minutes. “Is it a swamp requiring substantial fill? Might underground parking be possible there?”
SPN has tried to find out what will now happen to the property, which taxpayers will be paying for over the next four (remaining) years (3). No one from the District has returned our inquiry, which was sent by email to CAO Sullivan, Mayor Tait and Councillor Reay. At the time of this publication, we have received neither recognition of our inquiry or a reply.
Spending $1.42 million on a property for a future library without proper pre-development assessments—for an agreement that specified “shovel-ready land”—may end up being an expensive oopsie.
- According to the minutes from a Special Meeting held on March 21, 2016, Council approved a short-term loan of $1,420,000 from the Municipal Finance Authority (MFA). Repayment would come from surplus initially and then possibly from Casino or other types of sources. Gail Hall, Sooke resident and council watchdog, wanted to see this as a bylaw. Staff said that because it’s a short term loan, a bylaw was not required.
- According to the MFA, the “MFA makes available short term loans (maximum 5 year terms) under section 175 of the Community Charter. These loans must be of a capital nature and cannot be transferred to debenture or long term debt. The council must pass a resolution authorizing the debt for the project and specifying the principal repayment terms. Part of the application for a loan under this section includes the MFA receiving Council reports discussing the project, a liability servicing limit certificate and a certificate of the finance officer certifying that they have read and understood this section of the Charter. This type of borrowing is not reviewed or approved by the Ministry. The debt servicing under this borrowing must be deducted from the municipality’s liability servicing limit”
- According to the proposed revisions to the Financial Plan, the following funds would be drawn from surplus over the next five years:
- 2016: $313,033
- 2017: $303,866
- 2018: $298,896
- 2019: $293,926
- 2020: $288,956