Rimbey library expansion stirs controversy
Libraries don’t usually find themselves in the eye of controversy.
But in Rimbey a proposal to expand the library by selling off the town offices for $1 to use as library space has stirred emotions and spawned a 437-name petition opposing the move.
Reuben Giebelhaus started the petition after expressing his concerns to the mayor and some councillors about the wisdom of selling a taxpayer-funded asset for a song. It was a follow-up to a letter to the editor the 90-year-old wrote the Rimbey Review that was published in December.
They told him he and another man were the only ones who had complained. That spurred Giebelhaus into action because he knew there was plenty of local coffee shop talk grumbling about the proposal.
He had no trouble gathering names on his petition, which calls for a referendum on the sale to be held during October’s municipal elections. He dropped it off at the town’s offices on Wednesday.
Giebelhaus said he’s got nothing against the library’s expansion plans. He just believes moving into the town offices is a mistake. Town Hall would be moved to the provincial building and leased for about $33,000 a year, which he considers a waste of tax dollars.
“We’re not down on the library. The point is selling the building like that. I’m sure if they had to (build the same space new) they couldn’t do it for $1 million.”
It makes more sense to expand the library by building an addition and leaving Town Hall as is, he added.
Meanwhile, the library’s board, noting local concerns about the cost of relocating the town offices, has offered to scrap the $1 deal. Instead, the library would lease the space.
The project was to see the library expanded to 6,900 square feet from its current 2,600 square feet. Book stacks will remain where they are but the additional space will be used for programs, reading areas, offices and storage.
Renovating the former town offices would cost about $500,000 and will be covered through fundraising, a town loan and provincial funding.
The town’s loan was put on hold by council last month to await the outcome of the petition.
Tony Goode, town chief administrative officer, said the validity of the petition and its questions will be checked and he hopes to have a report for council’s March 25 meeting. About 250 valid signatures are required.
If approved, the town has 90 days to hold a referendum on the town office sale.
Goode said that the sale has become such an issue was unanticipated.
“It certainly surprised me. I didn’t expect it to come to something like this.”