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Overdue for a change 

Plans are in the works for the bulldozed infirmary site. Mike Fleury checks out where the long hoped-for central library fits in.

When the Halifax Memorial Library on Spring Garden Road first opened in 1951, no one could have imagined the demands that would be placed on the building by 2006. Still, despite being over half a century old, the building continues to function as the largest library branch in the HRM.

That may change. In a joint venture, the city and the province are developing a land-use plan for a number of properties near the corner of Spring Garden Road and Queen Street. The area under review includes the current home of the Halifax Memorial Library, as well as the site of the former Halifax Infirmary. The old infirmary site on Queen Street is being discussed as the most likely location for a new downtown library.

Peter Doig is the chair of the Central Library Steering Committee. Although it will be months before the city and the province settle on any plans for the area, Doig is already excited about the prospect of a new library facility. “The infirmary site is a great opportunity. It’s right on the corner, it’s got good transit access and it’s a great way to revitalize the Spring Garden Road area,” he says. “It will provide a lot of pedestrian traffic, a great economic impact—it’s just a great way to bring more people into the downtown area.”

It would also mean more space for a library that currently holds more than 280,000 titles. Not to mention saving the trouble of trying to saddle the aging Spring Garden building with demanding modern resources.

“ is a nice comfortable building, but it’s definitely not made for computers,” says Doig. “At this point, it’s too early for final plans, but we would need something that’s about three times the current size just to meet our current demand.” Doig is also quick to point out the new library is far from a done deal.

“We regularly work with both levels of governments, and we’ve made our interests known to them. I’d like to say now that we’re optimistic that the new library will end up there, but by no means is this a slam dunk.”

At this point, no plans have been confirmed. The city and province are still gathering community input that will influence any future development. Specific plans for the area should start to emerge sometime in March or April.

Local planning firm Environmental Design and Management has been hired to help guide the initial planning stage of the Spring Garden/Queen Street development. Although EDM will not be involved in selecting any specific projects, the firm realizes there are many parties interested in such a central piece of downtown land.

“Contained in that one area, you have law courts, universities, some of the best shopping in Metro, the library, arts and crafts vendors… it will be interesting to see how the public responds to this,” says EDM employee Brian White. “Before we come to our conclusions, we’ll be interested to find out what people value in this city.”

In addition to the library, White speculates commercial developers will make a bid for the infirmary site as well.

“Two years ago, the HRM issued what’s known as an ‘Expression of Interest,’ and received some early development ideas,” says White. “Obviously, we have to respect the confidentiality of those developers, but we were privy to those proposals. So at this point, we have a good idea about the commercial viability of the area, and the infirmary site in particular.”

To compete with those commercial interests, Peter Doig is keeping an open mind about how a central library might be integrated into the area.

“One of the things that will probably help as we approach a go-ahead might be to add some kind of retail component to the new building,” he says. “Vancouver has a relatively new central library, and there’s a retail component to it, there’s an office component to it, and now there are residential developments happening around it—it’s become a magnet for related developments. There’s no reason why we couldn’t take that kind of a creative approach here in Halifax.”

Background information on the Spring Garden/Queen development will be available to the public from Monday Jan 23 to Friday Jan 27 at City Centre Atlantic, 5523 Spring Garden (above Pete’s Frootique). There will be a public presentation from the consulting team Thursday Jan 26 at the TUNS auditorium, 5410 Spring Garden, 7-9pm.

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