A ‘betrayal’: Patrick Brown’s handling of Brampton library’s Chinguacousy branch latest example of his failed leadership
“I do think that there is a feeling that the way that this has happened and the way the decisions were made feel like a betrayal of the library’s ability to fulfill its mission.”
These blunt words by Todd Kyle reflected the mood last week, as Brampton Library board members voiced their anger with City Council and Patrick Brown, after elected officials failed to consult stakeholders before handing the building that houses the wildly popular Chinguacousy branch to the Toronto Metropolitan University for a proposed new medical school.
Library Board Chair Jaipaul Massey-Singh described the move as “a real step backwards in a community that relies tremendously on the library.”
The property being transferred to TMU has an appraised value of $48 million, the library branch underwent a $2 million renovation about five years ago and the Lester B. Pearson Theatre inside the Civic Centre had a $3.4 million facelift just before the pandemic; taxpayer money that will be a waste if the space cannot be used by the public in the future, once the building is in the hands of TMU.
Members of the public and some on Brampton City Council were stunned when Brown, TMU and the Province made the unexpected announcement in January, highlighting the deal to hand over the Civic Centre, which also houses other arts organizations, to TMU.
Many library staff knew nothing about the arrangement and other stakeholders expressed anger over the non-transparent way Brown and the City handled the matter.
“There is a considerable amount of stress related to all the very rapid changes we have to make,” Kyle said. “There is a lot of concern for how difficult it will be to serve the Bramalea neighbourhood with a smaller location in a slightly less accessible spot.”
Board member Geoff Nholin addressed a proposed letter to Brown and the rest of council to express the community’s frustration.
“We should even make it stronger and push for that because I believe that a medical school is a specialized institution, it is not a social institution. It is specialized. It can be anywhere, it can operate anywhere, but a library cannot.” He then singled Brown out. “God is there to judge the good and the bad… I think this letter should be stronger in terms of a message to the mayor.”
After being evicted from the Bramalea Civic Centre, the branch will have to operate in a temporary new space inside the Chinguacousy Park Ski Chalet on 9050 Bramalea Road with the hope of building a new home in the future.
“What we need to acknowledge is this has, of course, been a surprise move on the part of the City of Brampton,” Kyle, Brampton Library’s chief executive officer, told the board during its March 28 meeting. “We have to move very, very quickly, we have a lot of work to do. The solution that we have, as described here, is, I would say, less than perfect — it’s the best that we can get.”
On January 21, the City of Brampton announced it had given Toronto Metropolitan University (TMU) the Bramalea Civic Centre, which houses the library branch that had been there for over 50 years and had undergone major renovations as recently as 2017. It will now be moved to a much smaller space.
The library has until the end of August to move.
Kyle said the timelines are dependent on several factors including the modifications they need to make to the chalet. The library will attempt to provide continual service throughout the transition.
The new space at the ski chalet is considerably smaller at 14,000 square feet, 4,000 of which is personnel space, compared to about 50,000 square feet at the long-time location, which includes 33,000 square feet for the Chinguacousy branch and 17,000 square feet of operational space for Brampton Library’s acquisitions, shipping and receiving, programming, outreach, marketing, and IT functions. The On-The-Go outreach van is also housed at the facility.
The non-public facing operations will have to be separated, the board was told by staff.
Kyle described it as “a little bit of musical chairs” for the location which has served as the biggest and busiest in Brampton’s library network.
“The kind euphemism we use is, ‘the most efficient major library system in Canada,’ which is to say we are the smallest square footed and lowest funded library system in Canada and we’re about to become smaller at a time this city is growing tremendously and becoming only more diverse and complex,” Massey-Singh said.
Programming, outreach, collections and marketing will move to the second floor of the Four Corners branch, while the senior management team, finance and human resources units will be sent to 129 Glidden Road, which is the former Emergency Operations and Fire Training centre. A location still hasn’t been found for the popular recording studio which is currently at the Chinguacousy branch.
Some staff may be relocated to the Gore Meadows branch, which is the only location with an appropriate receiving dock for new library materials.
Even if all these plans work out, Kyle said the organization will still be short of space, in an already stretched library system.
The ski chalet proposed as the temporary home of the library.
(Alexis Wright/ The Pointer)
During last week’s board meeting, Kyle told the members there continues to be a “considerable amount of concern and dismay” among the community, but staff seem to understand that it isn’t the library board or administration behind the move.
Kyle told The Pointer that the intention will be to stay in the chalet long enough to allow for the planning and construction of a new building for the long term. No specific timeline has been announced.
There has been no commitment from the City.
The displacement caused heated debate in a recent Brampton City Council meeting where members discussed the decision to transfer the property to TMU.
Councillor Rowena Santos described “frustration about how arts continues to be pushed aside for what people think are other priorities” and put much of the blame on Councillor Pat Fortini who gave TMU a tour of the facility. Fortini pointed out that Santos was part of the decision and “nobody thought” about the existing services and organizations that would need to be evicted to make the location work for a medical school. Fortini said it was TMU’s decision to choose the Civic Centre for its future needs, not his, suggesting the university was on the verge of pulling the plug on its partnership with Brampton because it could not find a suitable facility.
During the Library board’s meeting, members passed a motion to send a letter to Brampton Council for a commitment that the move will just be temporary. They asked to have a library assessment by an independent body to show what the community’s needs are, a review of the annual budget to account for lost operational costs of $260,000 annually, as well as the commitment from the City that it will have a more appropriate permanent location built.
Members also want the City to cover the $500,000 in one-time costs of moving and improvements to the chalet to make it usable.
“(Temporary) has been the language thus far, but councils change, things change, and we would hate to find ourselves a few years down the road in a facility that was meant to be a temporary fix becoming an inappropriate and insufficient permanent home,” Massey-Singh said.
He described the wording of the letter to council that was already drafted.
“That was the letter we put together, we think it makes the case relatively clearly and cleanly. The next step, provided that the board is in support and receives this letter and gives us the direction to do so, is we will sign off on this correspondence and submit it to the mayor's office as well as those members of council.”
A copy of the letter will be cc’d to the board of Toronto Metropolitan University.
“I think it’s important that they be aware these things are happening in the city. Although it’s a City decision they are definitely a major partner and player in this and we would like them to be part of the solution forming as well.”
To make up for the loss of space, the board has approved in principle the funding of an additional, ninth, library branch for an underserved area of the city. Details of that location, currently subject to negotiations with a private landlord, as well as the staffing implications of adding the branch have not been made public. The Library’s hope is to have it opened late this year.
Meanwhile, the Bramalea community will be losing the branch’s current location, the popular recording studio and all the other arts organizations that have operated out of the Civic Centre.
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