Grand Forks library passes audit, plans renovation

The accessible washroom renovation will cost $84,000.

On the heels of an “accessibility audit” earlier this year, the Grand Forks and District Public Library is now working to secure funding for the necessary improvements to the building – and has already received a huge donation in the process.

The library received its Rick Hansen Foundation accessibility audit back last week, following the inspection this fall. The library received 426 of 630 possible points, for a score of 68 per cent – enough for a Rick Hansen Foundation certificate of accessibility.

The audit looked at four areas of impairment and how well the library is set up to accommodate them: visual, mobility, cognitive and hearing impairments. Library director Cari Lynn Gawletz said that while the library did better than she expected, they earned no “innovation points” for going above and beyond on accessibility, and there is still lots of room for improvement.

This work will include an extensive washroom renovation for which the library has already begun fundraising.

“The bathrooms are going. Walls knocked down, [we’re going from] stalled, sex specific to four single-user, non-gendered, accessible, washrooms that are toilet, sink and door on their own,” she said. “It is really important to recognize the gender issues that people might have [with the current washrooms], and it is proven across the board that single user washrooms are safer for everyone.”

Gawletz said the library is planning on renovating to the Rick Hansen Foundation’s recommended standards, which exceed building code requirements for accessibility, and incorporate the correct door handles, handle bars, and even features like an emergency call button for patrons with disabilities.

She added that one of the washrooms will be accessible from the meeting room, making it more convenient to rent out that room.

Other areas for improvement the library has set in its sights are the circulation desk and the accessible parking spot – according to the foundation, having the spot on the street puts patrons in traffic, whereas an accessible spot in the parking lot at the side of the building would be preferable.

The bathroom renovation will cost about $84,000, Gawletz said – but a generous family has stepped in to cover a huge chunk of the renovations already.

“I sent a few letters out, and one is to the Mottershead Foundation, they sent us back asking for a full application … and that same day, Ian Mottershead, the chair, said they will give us $50,000 of his money. He and his wife Rosemary will be [donating], instead of through foundation,” she said.

Gawletz said the family has funded projects in Grand Forks in the past, though they have no connection to the area.

“They don’t really have any ties to Grand Forks but they said they like to support small communities who have done everything they can with the funds available to them,” she said.

As soon as the balance of funding is secured, Gawletz said they’ll be ready to get going on the renovations. The library also secured $6,000 in funding through a grant the City applied for on their behalf. While they have not had success with any large corporate or government grants yet, Gawletz is hopeful the library will secure funding through private and family foundation grants. She said she has sent out about 30 inquiries so far.

Though they knew they needed to do work on the building to improve accessibility, Gawletz said the washrooms are a driving focus for accessibility, after hearing feedback from patrons.

“We have the worst washrooms, potentially in the entire world, they’re not safe, they’re not private, they have no accessibility at all,” Gawletz said. “Two years ago we had a woman in a wheelchair come to the library and realize she could not even get into our bathrooms, she had to leave.

“I have heard from another person who uses a power chair that he just does not come to the library at all because he cant get in, so that is not acceptable. That is why we are working on it. It is the most important thing we need to fix.”

The Grand Forks and District Public Library is a registered charity with the CRA, and donations can be made in the library or online at grandforks.bc.libraries.coop.

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