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Yorkton library move halted, new locations being looked at as facility sale finalized at council

Over 50 people were packed into an un-air-conditioned council chamber in Yorkton on Monday, looking for more clarity on the future of the city’s public library.

That future is now in question after a motion was passed to amend the original plan to move the library to the proposed location on the second floor of the Gallagher Centre.

Although it was a packed house Monday, one difference between the two meetings impacting the future of the library was a lack of public discussion, versus the May meeting. Instead of 20 speakers from the public, it was just council itself speaking Monday, along with Chamber president Vanessa Andres making a presentation on the sale.

During Monday’s council meeting, Yorkton’s longtime City Manager Lonnie Kaal gave a timeline of events leading to the meeting.

“This was all about building efficiencies,” Kaal said on Monday of the May council meeting.

“It wasn’t like this purchase came to us, we were searching for people that would be interested in the building.”

Those words of Kaal are a new standpoint from council, as previously, it was centred on a sale in which a business came to the city, based on an interview done by CTV News on May 16.

“Moving the library came by chance when a business person asked if we might consider selling the building. No for sale sign was ever posted,” Yorkton Mayor Mitch Hippsley told council in May.

“It just happened so quickly and yes, we did things wrong,” Hippsley admitted on Monday.

“We were caught between a rock and a hard place. Were we trying to be transparent, absolutely? But we couldn’t.”

With the current tenants of the building set to vacate by November and the public outcry following the posting of the public notice of the disposition of a city-owned building publicly, it pressed the need for the additional motion from Hippsley.

The changes were moving to find an alternate space for the library, along with stopping planning and construction of the new space.

May’s council meeting was also packed, with standing room only, as the city allowed residents to voice their displeasure with the proposed move of the Yorkton Public Library. Misinformation also travelled quickly, such as residents thinking the library itself was closing, rather than moving to a location west on Broadway Street of its current location.

A large part of the meeting Monday was transparency and explaining to the public what situation the city was in.

Kaal said instead of moving to public auction, the city felt it would get a better value selling it privately.

“We were looking for people that were actually interested in purchasing it,” she said.

Kaal added that all councillors voted in favour of the library sale and the sale was at market value so the public notice wasn’t even technically needed.

“There was no other party that came forward [at the May meeting] interested in price or purchasing, the offer was subject to public notice, which means then, at that very moment, the condition was removed and therefore the sale was a valid sale,” she explained.

Council’s mistake in opening up the floor for public discussion versus the actual sale of the building misled the public, but Kaal took responsibility and said she, “could see how this could be misconstrued.”

Kaal was not in attendance at the meeting.

“I could see how the public got confused, I certainly ensure that if we ever do this again I will be very clear on price and second to that, that people provide written opposition rather than just randomly coming forward and not knowing what you’re up against,” she said.

“Stopping the sale was never really an option.”

After the May meeting, Hippsley called it an eye-opening night and “wonderfully overwhelming, in a positive way.”

But there was a much different tone from the Mayor during his address to begin the council meeting.

“While I appreciate all the people here present, we ask that you observe the proper council meeting quorum. Council meetings are a respectful, formal environment. There will not be any opportunity this evening for the public to exchange with members of council, we ask for your cooperation,” Hippsley said, following the land acknowledgement.

“There’s been some great conversations, really good people,” Hippsley said following council. “And I’ve had the opposite. To the point where you go, ‘you know, I’m not the whipping boy here, council makes the decision, I’m one vote and they are one vote, as well’ — but it was downright abusive.”

Speaking of abuse that was something Andres brought up in her presentation to council. Speaking of abuse, that was something Andres brought up in her presentation to council, as the business experienced threats after its name leaked on Facebook pages across Yorkton.

Andres said it is a member of the Yorkton Chamber of Commerce who purchased the building but stopped short of naming the business.

Hippsley added that he, too, had been receiving threats due to the sale.

“I understand [what the business was going through], I didn’t get death threats, but close, my heart goes out to that person because it happened here too, it’s a fantastic fit for Yorkton,” he said.

Andres, however, wasn’t too pleased with the way everything ironed itself out Monday.

“All the money that we would have gained from the city and saving $185,000 is now going to have to be spent looking for a new location if they decide to not move into the Gallagher Centre,” she said.

“The Mayor had commented that that was democracy [during the May council meeting], that everyone speaking was opposed. But us at the Chamber and a lot of other business owners, like myself, we don’t have interest in the library, purchasing it, for $1.5 million.”

When asked why the Chamber didn’t speak during the meeting, Andres said it was because no other members wanted to outbid the $1.5 million offer.

Executive Director Juanita Polegi was in attendance, and wrote a letter to the editor in Yorkton This Week in the May 31st edition, stating the Chamber did not speak because it did not expect the “impassioned and sometimes uninformed opposition to the sale of the library.”

Regardless, the Chamber said it believes the Gallagher Centre location for the library was and is the best option.

In terms of the future of the library, much is still in question. It could, conceivably, still move to the Gallagher Centre, or another location could be found. Hippsley said he doesn’t want to ballpark how long a potential closure could be, but he said library users need to know that this is about the future of Yorkton.

“I think that if there’s a rainbow at the end of this, I think they’re willing to wait,” he said.

The new tenants at the old library facility are expected to move in this upcoming November.

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