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Not-so-little library on the prairie

Gaynor Family Regional Library, serving Selkirk and residents of surrounding RMs was built to set an example of green construction on budget

Three high school students sit chatting over laptops and lattes near the fireplace, while a group of women spins and knits together nearby.

Parents stream through the doors with kids in tow. Dishes rattle in the on-site coffee shop and bakery.

Selkirk’s 18,000-sq.-ft. Gaynor Family Regional Library doesn’t sound like an ordinary library and that’s because it’s anything but.

For starters, it’s mostly talk friendly — unless you’re in a designated quiet zone.

“We’re not a ‘shushing’ library,” says Ken Kurilyw, director of library services here. “We’re not the traditional library where it’s quiet. We want it to be a welcoming community space.”

Gaynor Family Regional Library’s doors opened in 2014, making it one of the newest public libraries in Manitoba, a $5.6-million facility that now redefines what a public library can be.

“We” includes its own visionary board, local businesses, and community supporters who agreed Selkirk not only had physically outgrown its previous location, but also saw past the concept libraries are places you merely walk in, keep quiet, choose a book and check it out.

“It was just a warehouse for books,” explains Kurilyw.

New vision

The library they built to replace it ultimately became a multi-purpose hub for the entire community, housing not just a library, but the Red River Planning District offices, meeting space for community groups, and a local independent café. It’s a lender of 15,000 e-books as well as traditional books and it has specialized programs for technological literacy.

Designed for community networking and jump-starting entrepreneurship, it’s also a building built to the highest environmental standards and done to show green building can be budget friendly, says Kurilyw.

“We wanted to build an environmentally responsible building that would be an example of doing so and staying within a budget.”

The end result is a library with rows of bookshelves lit by natural light streaming through expanses of south-facing windows, plus more windows on the ceiling, in a building that ultimately met all requirements of Manitoba’s Green Building Policy. The library is also verified and recognized as Power Smart and designated with a three “Green Globe” rating for its numerous green technologies, including a complete geothermal heating and cooling system, locally sourced materials, ceilings made from reclaimed ash, carpeting from recycled materials, reused shelving from a closed bookstore, and reclaimed glass for the quartz-composite counters.

Living demonstration

The outdoors are also a key part of its design, thanks to a partnership with Eastern Interlake Conservation District whose involvement ultimately led to five acres of newly naturalized tall grass prairie adjacent to the new library.

An interpretive trail winds through the site where more than 50 different local and natural grasses and flowers are established, showcasing a rare piece of native prairie ecosystem. Landscaping with what’s called a sedge meadow bioswale, or a gently sloped shallow drainage course, collects run-off from the surrounding area, parking lot, and building’s roof and is also a teaching tool about water conservation. The drainage course holds run-off in it for as long as possible to remove silt and pollution from surface run-off water.

“This was a perfect space to do this,” says Armand Belanger, Eastern Interlake Conservation District manager, noting the outdoor reading space and an interpretive trail adds a unique outdoor learning space to the library.

“The work the conservation district usually does is often in the back 40, working with farmers or other big landowners. Stuff that happens in the back 40 is really important to our watershed, but it’s nice to be bringing this right before the eyes of the public so everyone can see what’s happening.”

“We wanted to show developers that you can have water on your property without overwhelming city sewers and you can do it at a reasonable cost,” adds Kurilyw.

Widely supported

How the library was named “is another really great story,” says Kurilyw. Local philanthropists Jim and Betty Anne Gaynor, former owners of Gaynor’s Foods in Selkirk, donated $1.5 million toward its construction.

“They wanted to give back to their community and they were a big part of making this happen,” he said.

A vision for a non-traditional library was widely shared, Kurilyw said, noting it was funded largely by donations and community partnerships as well as support from the province and the City of Selkirk and the RMs of St. Andrews and St. Clements.

It continues to attract widespread interest as other communities look to upgrade or rebuild their public libraries, he said.

But smaller urbans needn’t balk at Selkirk’s status as a city and assume you need to be a big place to think big.

“We’ve definitely set a new standard for libraries in Manitoba,” he said.

“It’s definitely doable in smaller centres. Selkirk is both rural and urban, a third of the users in our library are rural residents, from RM of St. Andrews and St. Clements, and it can certainly be done in rural areas. We did this on a small budget. The priority for us was local fundraising to make this building happen.”

The Gaynor Family Regional Library was given special recognition in 2015 by the Manitoba Conservation District Association

About the author

Reporter

Lorraine Stevenson is a reporter and photographer for the Manitoba Co-operator with 25 years experience writing news and features. She was previously a reporter with the Farmers Independent Weekly and has also written for community newspapers in Winnipeg and Manitoba's Interlake.

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