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Junction East proponents tout the facility’s inclusive focus

Greater Sudbury Public Library CEO Brian Harding and the chairs from other partner organizations in celebrating the inclusive nature of Junction East in advance of a special city council meeting centred on the project scheduled for April 5

Sprinkled throughout proponents’ key arguments for the Junction East project are measures that strive to make the downtown-based cultural hub an inclusive space for everyone.

“We are so looking forward to being able to have an accessible space,” Art Gallery of Sudbury co-chair Paula Gouveia told Sudbury.com, adding that the project unfolding is like “watching a dream come true.”

Greater Sudbury Public Library CEO Brian Harding also shared this sentiment, noting that all of the partners’ central goal is creating a space that’s available to everyone. 

Junction East is a proposed 62,000-square-foot municipal building to be located on Shaughnessy Street in downtown Sudbury and is expected to include a new central library, the Art Gallery of Sudbury and potential future partners including the Sudbury Theatre Centre and Sudbury Multicultural and Folk Arts Association

City council has continued inching forward with the project, which was initially projected to carry a price tag of $46.4 million but at the latest update last summer was estimated to have increased in cost by 21 per cent. 

In January, Ward 11 Coun. Bill Leduc introduced a motion to look at the implications of putting the project on hold, but later withdrew his motion after it proved there was little appetite to look at this possibility.

During the period of perceived uncertainty between Leduc tabling his motion and withdrawing it, the chairs of various organizations joined forces to author a joint letter to city councillors in which they made their collective case for Junction East. 

Signatories included Greater Sudbury Public Library chair Michael Bellmore, Art Gallery of Sudbury co-chair Paula Gouveia, Sudbury Theatre Centre Patricia Meehan and Sudbury Multicultural and Folk Arts Association chair Bela Ravi. 

With a special city council meeting scheduled for April 5 devoted solely to covering the technical aspects of the Junction East project, Sudbury.com reached out to the letter’s signatories to help share why they are advocating for city council to push forward with the build. 

Of the signatories, only Gouveia responded to our inquiry, although we also connected with Harding to help flesh out the library’s points of advocacy.

The library is the largest partner in Junction East by size, with Harding noting the proposed final square footage will be better clarified in whatever report is presented on April 5.

“The project in many ways had its genesis in the development of a new central library,” he said, adding that although the latest round of conversations began approximately 10 years ago, the library also has a report from the early 90s that called for the creation of a new central library.

The existing downtown library on MacKenzie Street was built 70 years ago for a population one-third that of modern-day Greater Sudbury and was designed with library services of the day in mind, which centred on people visiting the building strictly to obtain and leave with a book. 

Although this is still an important component of libraries, Harding said they’ve changed a great deal during the last 70 years and now serve a much broader purpose.

“We know that we have to constantly evolve to meet the needs of our community,” he said. “It’s not just providing books, but providing a range of services.”

Modern libraries include spaces for people to meet other people either virtually or in-person, study and access the internet using the library’s machines or their own devices. 

“Flexibility is inherent in the design,” Harding said of the planned building, adding that there will be spaces throughout the building “where there’s comfortable furniture for people to sit on and do their work independently, have a strong wifi connection but also have a power outlet there so they can plug in their laptop or their tablet or what have you.”

The existing downtown building is limited in these regards and only has two meeting spaces. Further, he said the building is short in electrical outlets and ethernet cables, which would require an expensive retrofit.

“The question is, do you gut that facility and do a major overhaul of it?” he asked, adding that the existing building would need to close for a couple of years to accommodate the work.

“Even then, it’s still undersized and doesn’t provide the same degree of flexibility as we need to address some of the challenges we have in our existing facility,” he said. 

The current library also has a small maker space in their basement, with 3D printers and other devices for people to create things with, which they hope to expand upon with a greater square footage at Junction East.

While the current library meets the minimum government requirements for accessibility, the new space will be designed with accessibility at the forefront of every decision to make it more inclusive.

“The fundamental thing about public libraries is that we serve all,” Harding said. “We literally serve every demographic of society. We serve everyone in our community. And of course, not everyone chooses to use us, but we all can and we design services to support literally everyone.”

The Art Gallery of Sudbury shares the same interest in accessibility, particularly since the existing building within a turn-of-the-century mansion doesn’t even meet mandated minimums. 

The province requires the museum to find an accessible space by the end of 2024, and Gouveia said Junction East would be an ideal location.

“Being at the table with our partners at Junction East has been such a wonderful experience,” she said, adding that with so many things co-located there will be great opportunities for the project’s partners to build off of each other’s successes.

Also similar to the aspirations related to the library, Junction East would allow the gallery greater space to expand their operations, including broadening their collections and allowing greater opportunity for visiting exhibits. 

In the joint letter by the partner organizations’ board chairs, it’s noted that Junction East will “dramatically enhance public service, arts and social service programs for youth, seniors, new citizens, workers, the homebound, community groups and community action networks, welcoming and including all who visit or make Greater Sudbury home.”

The April 5 meeting will see the city’s elected officials presented with “a very comprehensive picture of the project, where it stands in terms of design, in terms of cost, in terms of options such as what we discussed this evening on energy efficiency and sustainability,” said Ian Wood, the city’s executive director of Strategic Initiatives, Communications and Citizen Services last week.

Included in the presentation will be a recommendation for a net-zero carbon building, which would bump the project’s budget by $6.1 million beyond the base-level project budget.

The April 5 meeting will begin at 4 p.m. and a livestream can be accessed by clicking here

Tyler Clarke covers city hall and political affairs for Sudbury.com.