April 5, 2020

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Winnipeg Free Press

ABOVE THE FOLD

City mulls Millennium Library community resource centre

What used to be a coffee shop on the main floor of the Millennium Library could soon become a community resource centre equipped with community crisis workers, pending city council approval.

Safety on the agenda

Other safety recommendations to be discussed by Winnipeg's executive policy committee relate directly to the downtown safety partnership, a joint effort between private entities and government announced last fall.

The committee will discuss officially endorsing the partnership, which includes the City of Winnipeg, Downtown Winnipeg Business Improvement Zone, and True North Sports & Entertainment Ltd. Then, it will deliberate what type of financial commitment the city will make to cover the two-year pilot project's costs.

Other safety recommendations to be discussed by Winnipeg's executive policy committee relate directly to the downtown safety partnership, a joint effort between private entities and government announced last fall.

The committee will discuss officially endorsing the partnership, which includes the City of Winnipeg, Downtown Winnipeg Business Improvement Zone, and True North Sports & Entertainment Ltd. Then, it will deliberate what type of financial commitment the city will make to cover the two-year pilot project's costs.

The public service is recommending the city and True North evenly split the bill for the compensation of the project's director of safety initiatives, which is set to total $125,000 over two years. As well, a 50-50 split is proposed to cover the costs of consultant services associated with the pilot, with the city spending no more than $30,000.

With some equipment costs, the city would be on the hook for nearly $160,000, which the committee's report says would be sourced from the destination marketing reserve fund.

Executive policy committee chairwoman Coun. Sherri Rollins called the cost-sharing proposal "a key milestone" for collaboration between the city and True North (owner of the Winnipeg Jets and the NHL team's downtown arena), whose chairman, Mark Chipman, has played a major role in the partnership thus far.

Also on the docket is a proposed expansion of the city's SafeWalk Program. The public service is recommending council approve $375,000 from the destination marketing reserve fund to bring on eight more staff to a number of downtown organizations.

The committee will also discuss amending the building exterior lighting grant program so applicants can get a maximum subsidy of 90 per cent of the eligible costs or $10,000, whichever is less, for each side of the building where a lighting project has been installed.

Currently, subsidies can't exceed 50 per cent of eligible costs.

It's one of several recommendations from the Winnipeg public service the executive policy committee will debate Jan. 21 related to downtown safety, including the endorsement of a partnership and a cost-sharing agreement between the city and True North Sports & Entertainment Ltd. to evenly split the salary of that partnership's director.

Located beside the lobby, and before the airport-like security measures library guests have had to pass through since last February, the former Human Bean Coffee & Tea has been closed for nearly two years.

If approved, the to-be renovated space will include resources related to mental health and wellness, housing, addictions, and other basic needs; a community meeting room; access to beverages and snacks; and access to the library's community crisis workers.

Altogether, renovations are estimated to cost $236,000, all of which will be drawn from the city's destination marketing reserve fund. The project would be piloted over a two-year period.

Community crisis workers are currently stationed on the second floor — not entirely out of sight, but not exactly easy to find, library officials say. With the added security measures — including bag checks, metal detectors, and pat-downs — a Dec. 31 administrative report noted, some people had a difficult time accessing the workers' services.

The former Human Bean Coffee & Tea has been closed for nearly two years. (John Woods / Winnipeg Free Press)

The former Human Bean Coffee & Tea has been closed for nearly two years. (John Woods / Winnipeg Free Press)

"The public service has received feedback that some citizens may perceive the enhanced security measures... as a barrier to access, rather than an improvement to their individual sense of safety," chief corporate services officer and report author Michael Jack wrote.

"While the need for security has increased due to a variety of factors, the value of enhanced security is limited if it detracts from the sense of well-being of the city's most vulnerable community members," he wrote.

"The proposed community connections space is intended to reinforce the library's role as an inclusive public space, while providing important service connections to vulnerable individuals and further enhancing the safety of all library patrons."

"The public service has received feedback that some citizens may perceive the enhanced security measures... as a barrier to access, rather than an improvement to their individual sense of safety," chief corporate services officer and report author Michael Jack wrote. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Free Press files)

"The public service has received feedback that some citizens may perceive the enhanced security measures... as a barrier to access, rather than an improvement to their individual sense of safety," chief corporate services officer and report author Michael Jack wrote. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Free Press files)

Ed Cuddy, manager of library services, said Wednesday people who access the resource centre won't go through the security gates to do so, and the change will help bring support services "front and centre."

Cuddy said there weren't yet "concrete" plans to remove the security measures. However, he did say the best-case scenario would be if the downtown library could "find a framework that would make screening unnecessary."

While he admitted there wasn't proper consultation about the implementation of the security measures last year, which led to community outrage from groups such as Millennium For All, Cuddy said he hoped to remediate that moving forward. "We've learned that we can't make decisions like that in isolation."

"I think the community space is a great idea, and I'm happy they're open to consultation, but it doesn't repair the damage that's been done," said Joe Curnow, a Millennium For All member. "Until the screening comes down, people are being made unsafe."

Ed Cuddy, manager of library services, said there weren't yet "concrete" plans to remove the security measures. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Free Press files)

Ed Cuddy, manager of library services, said there weren't yet "concrete" plans to remove the security measures. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Free Press files)

Another recommendation the policy committee is set to discuss relates to the security of the library's parkade, operated by the parking authority.

The administrative report notes the parkade isn't fully secure, with unrestricted access to pedestrian foot traffic. To that end, the public service is recommending the addition of card-swipe stations to secure its elevators and stairwells.

The parking authority's proposed budgets don't include funding for those upgrades, the report said, so approval is being sought for an estimated $100,000 in capital costs to cover the price-tag.

ben.waldman@freepress.mb.ca

Ben Waldman

Ben Waldman
Reporter

Ben Waldman covers a little bit of everything for the Free Press.

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