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Library may stay put as refurb costs rise

The old library building with the current library, in the former St Ringan's church, on the left. Photo: Chris Cope

THE DELAY in refurbishing the old Lerwick Library due to council staff being moved there when the North Ness headquarters was evacuated in 2016 has seen the price of the job rise by over £600,000.

Members of Shetland Islands Council’s education and families committee heard on Thursday that the cost of refurbishing the building at Hillhead in Lerwick and consolidating library services under one roof has risen from £900,000 to £1.51 million due to increased construction costs and an underestimation of fees and recharges.

But councillors were unhappy with a lack of detail in a new report presented at the meeting which recommended that the council no longer goes ahead with the original plan and instead refurbishes only the outside of the old building – meaning that library services would stay where they are currently.

The original proposals were approved by councillors back in 2015 but staff were decanted into the old library building after 8 North Ness was evacuated over safety fears, meaning that no full refurbishment could be done.

The main library service has been located at the former St Ringan’s church since 2002, but it also works out of the adjoining learning centre and also in some parts of the old library building.

Officials now recommend that the council should merely refurbish the outside of the old library, which is deteriorating quickly, because the previous desire to relocate other council services into St Ringan’s is no longer there.

The Bruce Family Centre – currently operating from the old Bruce Hostel at the old Anderson High School – was previously earmarked to move into St Ringan’s once library services had reverted back to the old building.

But capital programme executive manager Robert Sinclair told councillors that as the masterplan for the old Anderson Knab site progresses, other alternative locations for the Bruce Family Centre are being considered.

Refurbishing the externals of the old library would fit within the previously agreed budget of £900,000 and would see library services continue to be shared between St Ringan’s, the learning centre and parts of the old library building like they are at the moment.

The education and families committee agreed on Thursday to defer consideration because councillors felt the business justification case into the refurbishment did not contain enough detail.

Shetland Central member Davie Sandison raised a motion to hold off after saying he felt there was not enough information about the impact on library services and also the knock-on effect on the council’s asset strategy.

The business justification case featured a total of seven options, which also included selling or leasing the old library or demolishing it.

Shetland Library manager Karen Fraser was invited to speak to councillors and she said the 2015 proposal to bring library services under one roof in the old building would be “more efficient”.

She said a lot of effort goes into keeping the three public buildings running smoothly.

“We are spending a lot of staff time on quite unproductive tasks,” Fraser said.

Committee chairman George Smith said he felt the library had unfairly suffered following the delay in refurbishment.

“I feel really strongly that the library has been the victim of circumstances here beyond their control,” he said.

Martin Tregonning questioned whether it made long-term sense to relocate library services elsewhere and not refurbish the old library.

Councillors were told that if St Ringan’s was vacated, there are no obvious uses for the building.

But Sinclair was somewhat pessimistic on the resale value of the old church, saying that properties with no residential history can be harder to sell for a good price.

North Isles councillor Ryan Thomson questioned the recommend proposal, stating that he did not see much sense in improving a service “somewhat rather than completely”.

Southend member Robbie McGregor, meanwhile, suggested not refurbishing the inside of the old building would likely lead to greater bills in the future.

North mainland councillor Emma Macdonald said that while libraries are “really important”, it could make financial sense to keep services at St Ringan’s as well as doing more in rural libraries like in schools.

“I think we should leave it where it is and knock the other one [the old library building] down or sell it,” she suggested.

Tregonning instead said the council should “bite the bullet” and go ahead with the full 2015 refurbishment.

But Sandison’s motion to defer matters for more information was seconded by chairman Smith, meaning that the report will be revised.

The matter is also due to be heard by the policy and resources committee on Monday and the full council on 31 October.