Last night, a small group of Junction Triangle residents embarked on what looked like a doomed-at-the-outset enterprise—to raise at least $3 million to tear down and rebuild their tiny, one-room library branch, the third smallest in the city, at 1589 Dupont St.
Needless to say, this doesn’t seem like the time in Toronto’s political history to dream of building bigger, better libraries, as the mayor insists that the Toronto Public Library will have to cut its costs by 10 per cent along with every other city department, whether that means shutting down branches or not. (Councillor Doug Ford even recently said that residents of his ward wouldn’t mind seeing libraries closed, since they have so many anyway.)
But 50-year-old Kevin Putnam—who was also involved in the Fuzzy Boundaries initiative that re-instituted the Junction Triangle name—is the man leading the charge to expand the tiny, cramped facility, and he figures that right now is in fact the best time to be engaged in this sort of project.
“This isn’t an anti-Ford thing, and the core services review is a huge advantage for us,” he said. “It’s put libraries on the radar, and there wouldn’t be so many people here tonight if not for all the talk about libraries lately. We’ll find other friends we didn’t even know we had.”
Indeed, a community meeting last night spearheaded by Putnam and fellow resident Scott Dobson grew so big that it was moved from the second-floor meeting room of the library itself (capacity: 33) to a Portuguese sports club down the street, where a packed hall heard from councillors Ana Bailao and Sarah Doucette, as well as a host of residents. Most were long-time residents, many of whom grew up in the neighbourhood and were raising their own families in the area, and who spoke of the difficulty of getting to other nearby branches with small children in tow.
The Toronto Public Library itself has outlined three possibilities for the branch: expanding the existing facility slightly for $1.5 million, to improve handicap access and free up an extra basement room; to tear down the branch and build a newer, larger one on the spot at a cost of $3 million, or construct a brand new library nearby for $4.2 million.
And unlike the lauded and locally loved Bloor-Gladstone renovation, which was finished in 2009 and cost $9.2 million, this project will have to be financed largely through fundraising—a daunting task in such a small neighbourhood. Local businesses, well-off locals and even people formerly from the neighbourhood who’ve “done well for themselves and want to leave a legacy,” according to Dobson, will all be approached. And they’re hoping to get their hands on a chunk of the city’s Section 37 money—a fund that developers pay into in exchange for zoning variations, and which is used to fund neighbourhood initiatives.
Thirty-seven-year-old Kate Kwaczek, a mother of two who grew up in the neighbourhood and whose own parents were involved in the effort to build the current library in 1977, hopes that fundraising doesn’t fall entirely to individuals, fearing that long-time residents will be left out. “The neighbourhood is changing, and there are a lot of new people, mostly professionals, moving here. But there are still a lot of lower-income people here, and I hope they will always feel they can contribute too.”
There was a sense, as the meeting went on, that Putnam and Dobson were more optimistic than the rest of the neighbourhood—a lot of people just wanted to make sure the library they’ve already got wasn’t going to be closed (an increasingly unlikely scenario, as even Ford loyalists have been coming out against the idea of branch closures). But the timeline is still measured in years—Putnam estimates at least two before any kind of construction can even begin. And given how quickly the city’s political environment changed when Rob Ford was elected mayor (the aforementioned Bloor-Gladstone renovation was finished only two years ago), things might have by then changed all over again.