Solve 'desperate' housing crisis before new Portlaoise library

Councilllors call a halt on new Portlaoise library unless millions in grant aid is found

Solve 'desperate' housing crisis before new Portlaoise library
By Lynda Kiernan lynda.kiernan@leinsterexpress.ie @laoisnews

Portlaoise councillors want to pause plans for the new €5 million Portlaoise library until it gets more grant aid, in light of the housing crisis.

The library is planned on the site of the old Shaws store on Main Street, bought by the council for €465k in 2013.

The €4.5 million cost includes demolition, design, construction and fit-out, rising e from €3.7msince 2013, as the economy regrew.

However just €1.65m has so far been promised in a department grant.

After hearing a report on the housing crisis, and then the library cost breakdown, at the June council meeting, Portlaoise councillors Catherine Fitzgerald and Willie Aird want to hold off.

“I would love to sit here and welcome it, but after the previous discussion on housing, it's very difficult,” said Cllr Fitzgerald.

“I look at it like running a household, you buy the basics first. The housing situation is so bad, people are desperate, I couldn’t justify this, and I’m an avid library goer. It’s not the appropriate time for us,” the Fianna Fáil councillor added.

Fine Gael Cllr Willie Aird is hopeful that Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan can help source more cash.

“We'll ask the minister what over avenues we can go down. We bought this site and welcomed it, but now we should steady the ship. We have to get what grants we can, then see how much it will cost us. You’d buy the whole of Portlaoise for €5m. Let’s have the project we are proud of, but not leave this local authority open to €4.5m, a huge debt a year before an election,” he said.

Cllr Ben Brennan agrees.

“I do support a new library but we have thousands looking for a room, we need the money for housing first,” he said.

Cllr Brendan Phelan backed the library despite the housing shortage.

“The housing department has security men at every door trying to keep people out who are at their wits end. I still support the library even though the price is dramatically high. Many who use is are not in a position to fund books they need for their studies,” he said.

Cllr Mary Sweeney works at Portlaoise library.

She said 300 students used it this summer over the exam period to study. While declaring she is “shocked” at the pricetag, she still supports a new building.

“They are entirely different areas. I find it very disappointing that the cost is huge, but a flagship library like this would have enormous benefits, and it is free and inclusive. Our building is outdated, the system and computers are outdated,” she said.

Portlaoise Cllr Caroline Dwane Stanley is also hopeful it can proceed with a bigger grant.

“I too have concerns considering the housing crisis. I was over in the library recently and I couldn't get over how cramped it was. I welcome the new library, but without putting the burden on the local authority. Can the Director of Services confirm has the €1.65m grant increased,” she asked.

Director of Services for libraries Donal Brennan told them he has already re-applied for grant aid.

“You rightly say it would cost €4.5m. We have €1.65 committed so it would cost the council just under €3 million,” he said.

“I have written to the department to say we need more money, doubling it to €3m, I’ve made my case. If things were as they used to be, we’d have expected €3m,” he said.

Construction will cost €3.5 million, fees €246k, supervision €70,000, fit-out €414k, stock €250k and the percentage for art scheme €50k.

“The overall cost is very reasonable when you compare it to the cost of other libraries in Laois and in other counties. Portlaoise’s population was at 10,000 when the current library was planned in the 90’s. It is now at 22,050,” Mr Brennan said.

A library in Ennis where the population is similar to Portlaoise , cost €8.6million.

The award winning library in Abbeyleix cost €3m in 2008. Mountmellick’s was €2.6m, and Mountrath €1.1m.