Starting a new chapter on a story that's been years in the making, the City of Airdrie finally turned dirt on its new library on Aug. 21.
Dignitaries and employees from the City of Airdrie, the Airdrie Public Library board, Gibbs Gage Architects and Colliers Project Leaders were on-site at the former decommissioned fire hall on Monday morning to break ground on the future $65-million library and multi-use facility on Main Street.
The groundbreaking ceremony began with a land acknowledgement from Blackfoot Elder Carolla Fox Hanley, followed by speeches from Mayor Peter Brown and Airdrie Public Library board chair Daniel Nelles.
During his brief address, Brown mentioned the City wants the future facility to be a catalyst for the eventual and gradual revitalization of Airdrie's downtown core in the coming decades.
“Ground-breaking has been a long time coming,” Brown told the crowd in attendance. “It's not just the beginning of the construction project but the realization of many years of hard work to create such a shared vision. We believe this facility will be a landmark destination that offers a wide variety of opportunities, both indoor and outdoor, for citizens and visitors to gather, connect, and learn, and as a result, bring energy and vibrancy to Airdrie's downtown.”
After group photos were taken and Brown turned the first pile of dirt in an excavator, Nelles spoke to the Airdrie City View about what he called a “momentous” day for the city of Airdrie.
“I can’t emphasize enough how excited the library community is for this project to get going, be built, and open in two years’ time,” the library board chair said. “It’s such a great need for the city of Airdrie and its residents. We know it’s going to be fully utilized from the opening day.”
Nelles noted that Airdrie's current library (of approximately 15,000 square feet) is too small for a city that now boasts more than 80,000 residents. He claimed it is one of Alberta's most utilized library facilities across various metrics.
“That’s in the number of check-outs, number of patrons coming into the library, [and] the utilization of programs,” he said. “People come to the library for so many different things. There’s programming for adults, programming for youth, programming for preschool children, literacy programs, a Makerspace – there are so many things people need to come into the doors for to see us.”
The future library, once complete, will be more than 50,000 square feet. Nelles said the expanded space will allow for double the current library's collections and will employee at least 10 more staff than the current library.
“We don’t yet know the scale of the programming expansion, but we’re going to have at least 10 more full-time staff who will be part of the new facility,” he said. “A lot of the other details are still to be determined.”
Years in the making
Though it's been deemed a necessary capital project and a strategic priority for the City for many years, the road to breaking ground on Airdrie's future library saw some hiccups in the past due to budget increases.
In October 2021, council approved a $12.5 million budget increase for the project, raising the total price tag from approximately $50.2 million to $62.7 million. The hike was justified by increasing the project scope from a 60,000-square-foot facility to a 75,000-square-foot facility that would include both a full-scale library and other multi-uses.
But fast-forward a year, the project was revisited in October 2022, after the City revealed inflation and the global trend of construction market escalation was leading to increased costs for materials and labour. At the time, the City indicated moving ahead with the same scope for the project would increase the budget to $83.3 million – more than $20 million over the previous estimate, and more than $30 million more than the estimate before the 2021 increase.
Returning to the drawing board, City council voted instead to cap the budget at $65 million during its regular meeting on Nov. 7, 2022. The updated budget meant the schematic design for the facility – approved that September – had to be revised, resulting in the size and scope of the facility being reduced by 12,000 square feet.
After the new budget and scope were approved, Airdrie city council unanimously green-lit the revised schematic design for the future library and multi-use facility this past April. The adjusted schematics feature a revised facility area of 73,000 square feet and an underground parkade that is the same size as the building footprint.
While he mostly focused on the library aspect on Aug. 21, Nelles mentioned the future facility will also include other components.
“The library is the big component, but there’s an enormous community space attached to this facility,” he said. “New theatre space, new meeting rooms, event spaces, there’s a café. This is going to be…the centre for innovation, community, and culture here in Airdrie.”
Now that ground is broken, Nelles said the next step is to start excavating the earth to start building the below-ground parkade.
“All of the permitting is done at this point,” he said. “The next step, really, is to get shovels in the ground and start excavating the basement parking level. That’s going to happen essentially within the next couple of days here. The schematics and design for the basement level have all been approved and are with the construction team. They’re ready to go.”
According to Nelles, the new facility is scheduled to open in the summer of 2025.