Library pushes back on eviction from landmark building
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This article was published 13/05/2022 (388 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Residents of St. Pierre Jolys and surrounding areas are backing their public library’s campaign to challenge an eviction from its longtime landmark location attached to a local French immersion school.
Citing enrolment pressures, the Red River Valley School Division has announced it is ending a more than 50-year-old memorandum of understanding with the regional library to convert a unique auditorium at 505 Heber St. N. into classrooms.
Bibliothèque Régionale Jolys Regional Library currently operates rent-free in a wing of École Héritage Immersion School.
In return, employees work in tandem with the K-12 building’s collections and provide Red River Valley students with free access to 50,000 books, including a wide selection of French language literature.
“Not having a library is not an option. We need to continue our organization and we feel that this is the perfect partnership. It has worked since 1968,” said head librarian Nicole Grégoire.
An eviction notice issued to the library on March 1 — which gives the institution 12 months to vacate the premises — has sparked much debate in the bilingual municipality, located roughly 60 kilometres south of Winnipeg.
The prominent Franco-Manitoban architect of the avant-garde landmark has even weighed in on the plans.
“There must be a better, less intrusive and deleterious way to solve the problem,” wrote Étienne Gaboury, in a letter penned to school trustees late last month.
“This building was designed as a multi-purpose facility whose ideal and ultimate use would be a library. It was conceived as a circular stand-alone structure that would stand proudly on the front yard of the school as a symbol of excellence, both artistic and academic, and a beacon of identity for the (Franco-Manitoban) community.”
In a bid to stay put, library staff have collected more than 1,500 signatures supporting the status quo and gathered letters of support from surrounding municipalities and community members.
The library board is concerned about the future of the main site and a satellite facility. A small library situated in a vacant classroom in École St-Malo School is also being evicted and may have to be put into storage while the school is renovated to address space constraints.
Superintendent Brad Curtis said the division plans to resume its partnership with the library when space becomes available.
“We will do everything we can to make sure that it continues, but we have to have kids in a classroom. That is our No. 1 mandate. That is what schools are built for first, and then the community use comes after that,” Curtis said.
École Héritage has 325 students. That figure is estimated to reach 360 in 2022-23 and will likely surpass 400 in a couple of years, added the superintendent, who attributes the spike to urban sprawl and demand for French immersion.
Niverville, one of the communities students are bussed out of to study French in St. Pierre Jolys, is the fastest-growing community in Manitoba, according to recent Statistics Canada data.
Curtis noted the province is funding a $16-million school expansion in St. Malo and discussions about a permanent addition to École Héritage are underway.
“Our government will work collaboratively to achieve the best solution,” a provincial spokesperson wrote in an emailed statement, which did not directly address a second expansion, but noted Red River Valley is responding to community concerns.
The library board’s chairwoman said the landmark, a part of her community’s identity, is worthy of heritage distinction.
“We’re very proud of our French-Canadian heritage. We’re very proud of the fact that this is a French immersion school, so we want to make sure the students who come here have access to all of this,” said Paule Péloquin, adding she benefited from the library’s resources, having grown up in St. Pierre Jolys.
If forced to move, library staff said they will need to find a source of income to pay for a lease. They noted provincial funding has remained stagnant since the early 2000s.
Maggie Macintosh reports on education for the Winnipeg Free Press. Funding for the Free Press education reporter comes from the Government of Canada through the Local Journalism Initiative.