Years of lobbying and a key phone call led to deal behind new CBS Library

By Craig Westcott\April 14, 2023

There were nearly as many Morgans as other guests on hand for the grand opening of the CBS Public Library last Thursday, but what united them all was shared delight in the new facility, the most modern of its kind in the province.

Nearly everyone who had a hand in making the project come to fruition got an accolade at some point.

Mayor Darrin Bent began by thanking the special guests, and the Morgan family for showing up “in such numbers,” to celebrate the library’s opening and the naming of the building that houses it in memory of the late entrepreneur Clarence J. Morgan.

“I want to acknowledge the people who were hands on in the construction, along with our engineering staff, and the director, Jennifer Norris, as well as RCS Construction, and SNC Lavalin,” Bent added. “These are the people who oversaw the project and made sure that it got through to completion… It would be wonderful to stand here on behalf of council and take credit for this wonderful facility. But the truth is, it has taken many, many years and the work of many, many people who showed dedication, passion, determination, and maybe most of all, perseverance, to get us to where we are today.”

Members of the CBS Library Board worked for than 30 years to get a new library, said the mayor, and played a huge role in its success. “Thank you for not giving up,” he said.

Bent also thanked former mayors Woodrow French and Terry French for playing their parts too, “and many more people who are not here today who played an integral role.”

Bent noted council turned the sod on the library in August 2021, despite the challenges posed by the covid pandemic. “Now less than two years later, we have completed the project, not only in a timely fashion, but on budget,” he said. “And given the challenges of the economy over the last couple of years, we are absolutely proud of that accomplishment. We also believe that the partnership that we forged with the province and the library boards to make this a reality has created a new template that can not only be used here in Conception Bay South, in the way of doing things that is more cost efficient, effective and safely, but can also be used by communities across this province.”

The library actually opened on January 26, Bent said. “And on that first day it was fantastic to see a lineup out at the door at ten o’clock of people waiting to get into our new library. But what has been absolutely heartwarming is that scene has repeated itself nearly daily ever since… I’m told this library has generated more than a thousand new library cards in that two month period. And that is on top of the 8,000 members that they’ve had regularly over the years. What a fantastic accomplishment.”

Bent said CBS was able to buck the provincial housing trend during Covid and managed to see some 250 new housing starts. Residents expect and deserve affordable, quality amenities, he added. “The library resource centre that you’re in today I believe is the perfect example of our Town answering that need for our residents.”

Bent pointed out the various resources at the library in addition to books – everything from high-speed internet access, meeting spaces, maker spaces with 3-D printers, a hydroponic garden, and video and audio editing equipment. “You can even check out an I-Pad when you come in with your library card to use around the facility,” he said. “This is a new style of being a library and we are very proud to be on the cutting edge of that.”

The building is also energy efficient with solar panels that energize components in the facility.

“It’s an amazing space,” said Bent, crediting the “unlimited imagination” of the people working with the library boards.  

Bent reminded the guests the day’s purpose was two-fold: not just to officially open the library, but also to name it.

“The Morgan family is synonymous with Conception Bay South,” said the mayor. “Especially with our business community, retail and commercial. Clarence J. Morgan was not only instrumental in building and shaping our community over the last four decades, but thankfully, his legacy, his family here today, continue to expand and build our community for the future.”

Education Minister Dr. John Haggie, who was representing the provincial government, said libraries have played an important role in his own life, though he acknowledged this one is much different than the ones he knew growing up.

“This is a huge step forward into the 21st century,” he allowed. 

Haggie said the provincial government is pleased to provide $230,000 to the CBS Library annually to provide “the best services… that the community needs.”

The minister also congratulated the members of the provincial and local library boards who worked so hard to get the new library off the ground, and like Bent, touted its many different services.

“So, it really is a space to try to fit every community, whether you’re geographically here or a little bit further out, there’s a reach,” said Haggie. “It’s a hub as well as a spoke.”

As one of the former mayors who played a part in fighting for a new library, Avalon MP Ken McDonald offered some inside baseball on how it actually came about.

Standing in the new library, McDonald said, reminded him of a discussion council had with three provincial politicians at a public meeting at the Manuels River Centre shortly after he was elected mayor in 2013.

“It was a rowdy session,” McDonald recalled. “But we all agreed that Conception Bay South should have a (new) library.”

Some time after that meeting, McDonald said, he happened to be at Kent in Kelligrews shopping when his phone rang.

“And somebody said, ‘What are you at, my son?’ “This was Terry French, who of course was a (provincial cabinet) minister at the time,” said McDonald. “He said, “I wanted to talk to you about the library. What’s the best way to do it and get it done?”

McDonald said he offered a couple of options, but preferred the Corner Brook example where a new library was built and paid for by the city, but the mortgage was effectively covered by the proceeds from a lease arrangement with the Provincial Libraries Board.

“And so shortly after that I sat in the provincial legislature (as a guest) when the budget was getting read out and sure enough, the library was included,” McDonald said. “And here we are today with this brand new, absolutely fantastic facility and there’s nobody more fitting to have it named after than Clarence J. Morgan for everything he’s done in this community, and not just in this community. His business interests reached far beyond this community alone.”

Current Conception Bay South MHA Barry Petten, who was the executive assistant to Terry French when the library funding deal was struck and succeeded him in the district when French retired, said he was well familiar with the story shared by McDonald. And while he credited French and McDonald for their roles, he also threw a bouquet to Haggie and the provincial Liberal administration which he scrutinizes daily as the Opposition Critic for Education. 

“Government didn’t have to follow through on the commitment,” he allowed, “as this was done by a previous administration. So, I commend the current Liberal administration for following through on a commitment that was made in 2014 when it was a PC government. And I think we all should be thankful for that, because things could have went the other way. So, I want to give you credit for that.”

Provincial Libraries Board chairperson Myrtice Alpen said she was glad to greet everyone from the newest and most modern library in the province.

“As we’ve heard, this didn’t just happen,” she said. “A lot of people were involved. When I joined the provincial board 10 years ago, CBS Library was on the agenda. And it’s been on the agenda of every meeting we’ve held since then. So finally, CBS Library will no longer be on the agenda. As I said, it’s a result of the work of many people who’ve lobbied long and hard for this building. Past and present members of the provincial board, and the local library board, NLPL staff, especially our executive director Andrew Hunt and members of the Town of CBS.”

Alpen said the building is bright and open and nurturing. “When I walked in the door for the first time I felt as if I was being invited to move in, to just come in and see what’s here,” she said. 

Alpen noted the Maker’s Space and the Tablets Station were donated by the CBS Library Board.

“Congratulations to the citizens of CBS – you finally have a state-of-the-art library that meets your needs for today and will continue to do for many years into the future,” Alpen said.

Bonnie Morgan, the director of library operations with Newfoundland and Labrador Public Libraries, also happens to be from CBS. “I’m a Morgan from Seal Cove, not Kelligrews,” she joked. 

“As I look around this bright and accessible public library space, one word keeps coming to mind,” said Morgan. “Potential. This facility enhances our potential to deliver new and innovative library services to the people of conception Bay South. It celebrates the potential of every library user, all the possibility and capability that is nourished with free access to the written word, ideas and lifelong learning experiences, regardless of one’s age, experience or background.”

The chairman of the CBS Public Library Board, Gary Dawe, thanked everyone who played a role in the creation of the building. “I especially recognize our local library board both current and former members,” said Dawe. “We wanted to bring to our town and our citizens an open and vibrant library which is something really, we lacked for years and years. We had something like 2,200 square feet before. We could put 11 or 12 people in there at a time. We couldn’t do what we wanted to do, obviously. So, we’ve ben lobbying ever since. We have been told by many that a library today has a very limited value. We really disagree with that. We feel that a library today has a very diverse application. Just look around and you will see some of the things that we offer. Today’s library is more than a place to borrow a book.”

At the old library, Dawe said, the board focused on using its resources to promote early childhood development and literacy. “We promoted and funded programs in these areas. Unfortunately, space limitations restricted our ability to include all those wishing to participate. Now we have no such limitations. Actually, we intend to expand our programs.”

Dawe said the library also has space to promote special interests, anything from quilt making to fly tying, should anyone be interested in sharing those skills.

Over the years, the CBS Library Board, he said, managed to raise and save, through its limited means, some $60,000 which it contributed towards the tablet docking station and Maker’s Space.  “I would be remiss,” Dawe added, “in not thanking the Town for its continued support. I believe our council truly recognizes and appreciates the value that a vibrant library brings to our town.”

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