It will cost an estimated €3 million to turn a landmark shop in Portlaoise into the town’s new library, but it will not be open until at least 2017.
Laois County Council bought the former Shaws department store on lower Main Street for €450,000 in late 2013, but there was no money from the government to convert it in 2014, nor will there be in 2015.
The council are hoping 2016 will be their year. Officials met Minister of Environment, Community & Local Government Alan Kelly last month to explain their plan.
“We are optimistic of hearing from him. We looked for approval in principal to go ahead to design stage and Part VIII. We will go to tender probably in twelve months, and then construction could start next year,” said Director of Services Anna-Marie Delaney, giving the update at the February council meeting, requested by Cllr Mary Sweeney.
Chairman Cllr John Joe Fennelly will be “surprised“ if an announcement is not made by late summer.
“The minister was well briefed on Portlaoise, he said it was one place he would like to see a new library,” he said.
It would replace the current library upstairs in Lyster Square, and be bigger, with easier access, a community and exhibition space, study and research area and upgraded ICT facilities.
Construction will last about one year. The council have to foot a quarter of the cost themselves.
Cllr Willie Aird wants to go ahead with drawings regardless of budget approval.
“If we have it ready to roll, we would get funding. I am hugely optimistic that money is being spent again. There is going to be an announcement before the general election, it would be good housekeeping to have plans ready,” he said.
“We put our argument strongly to go ahead and prepare. I agree 100 percent with you,” said acting county manager Gerry Murphy.
“We don’t want to end up with a derelict site, we have to push that this is important for footfall on Main Street,” said Cllr Catherine Fitzgerald.
The council will consider temporary uses for the empty building, such as a market.
There was good news for Port library last week, with the signing of contracts to upgrade and extend it into the courthouse, to cost €362,000.
“It is due to be completed in August. It will create a library of over 360sqm, vastly improving services for Portarlington,” said acting County Librarian Bernie Foran.