It’s now been just over a year since the Ponoka Jubilee Library (PJL) moved into its new space in the Ponoka Civic Centre, with many benefits reported, of the larger, modern facility, but not everyone is happy about the move.
Roderick MacGregor, a senior and resident of Ponoka for about five years, used to walk to the PLB (formerly at 5110 48 Ave.) a few times a week to read newspapers and borrow a few books. He doesn’t drive, and the old location was a convenient jaunt over the walking bridge from Riverside into downtown.
“It was functioning quite well and I just can’t understand why they decided to move it,” said MacGregor of the old library building.
MacGregor says the new location, inside the civic centre at the old hospital site on 50 St., is a “desolate spot on the northern outskirts on the road out of town.”
He says the old library building never seemed over-crowded to him and was quiet.
It was a shock to him when the library moved, as he hadn’t heard any notifications of the change.
MacGregor says he refuses to visit the new library location and now gets his reading materials from the two used book stores in downtown. The only downside is there’s no new novels on offer.
The PJL moved into the civic centre on Oct. 29, 2018.
The new space is about 7,000 square feet (the Campus Alberta Central (CAC) has an additional 5,000 sq. ft.) compared to its previous space of about 4,000 sq. ft. in the old building, which library manager Dan Galway says is a “considerable upgrade for the citizens of Ponoka.”
PJL has use of the CAC classrooms to run its programs, instead of running programs in the main library space or kids space, as it had to do previously in the former location, which proved to be disruptive for other library users.
“In our old space, we did not have enough room to run our programs, which had been steadily increasing in demand,” said Galway, adding the library has seen “unprecedented growth” in recent years.
“The library had outgrown the previous facility.”
The move has allowed the library to increase and enhance program offerings that appeal to different community demographics, he says.
In 2018, the library offered 246 programs to 3,923 participants, which increased to 381 programs and 5,573 participants in 2019 (up until Dec. 16).
On average, their story time programs bring in 25 to 30 participants weekly and the library’s Crafty Saturday program averages between 30 to 40 people weekly.
“In our old space, this type of program would be impossible. With our move, we are able to utilize program rooms to accommodate this type of program.”
The new location also boasts a teen section that was non-existent before, and an expanded children’s section. The teen section had a recorded 36,277 visits in 2019.
The library had 70,880 recorded visits in 2019, from Jan. to mid-December, compared to 55,872 visits in 2018.
“Based on this usage, it’s clear that Ponoka needed this space.”
Some programs continuing in 2020 include the Thinkers and Tinkerers program that was introduced in September, 2019, outreach services to seniors’ homes and centres and the Adult Art Experience program, now twice monthly.
A month-long adult gardening program will begin at the end of February, featuring a number of gardening activities such as starting a herb garden and creating a living wall.
All programs are free of charge to users, as the library believes in “creating a barrier-free experience for all residents.”
In 2019, the town contributed $96,660 in funds to PJL and another $269,430 in the form of in-kind contributions for the sublease of the library space and maintenance costs. It will receive the same amount ($96,660) in operational funding in 2020.
According to Town of Ponoka communications manager Sandra Smith, the decision to move the PBL from the old building into the civic centre was “mutual” between the town and the library board.
“Without the interest and involvement of CAC and the library, the development of the Ponoka Civic Centre would not have happened,” said Smith.
The town approached the library asking if it was interested in a new space and the library said “yes” because its existing space was no longer meeting its needs, says Smith, adding there were no other concerns with the old building, for either party.
The town then invited the library to become a partner in the design process for the new building to ensure the new building would meet its needs.
The Library had already identified concerns about the limitations of its existing space before it was approached by the town regarding the possibility of a new building, says Smith.
The library board is appointed by Ponoka town council under the authority of the Alberta Libraries Act. Once its members are appointed, the board is an autonomous body that has control over who it hires, library programming and budgeting.
The board makes funding requests of the town, county, Parkland Regional Library, and others and the only other input the town has is to consider the Library’s budget request each year, says Smith.
The town has always provided the physical space for the library to operate in, and provides the annual operating funds in addition to the space.
“The impetus for [force behind] the Ponoka Civic Centre building was the opportunity to lease space to CAC (and bring new post-secondary education programming to Ponoka), while providing the library with a modern purpose-built space rather than a converted retail store,” said Smith.
“The location of the library and Campus Alberta Central (CAC) together in one shared space also provided the opportunity for a dynamic synergy for CAC and Library users, and the community as a whole.
“The building has now been open more than a year, and has shown the positive impact of combining these uses in one location. The building has become a busy and popular community hub.”
The town pays $700,000 annually to lease the civic building, at $25 per square foot with the area being 28,000 square feet. Council voted to begin the process to purchase the civic building during its regular meeting Dec. 10, 2019.
The old library building is now leased by the Ponoka Community Market. In lieu of rental fees, the group donates funds raised through market table rentals to the Ponoka Arts, Recreation and Culture Society (PARCS), totalling about $17,000, much higher than the anticipated $11,500.