A tender has been awarded for the planned upgrades to Bellville library and Elizabeth Park, but some say they are idealistic and impractical.
The project, which will run as one, includes the upgrading of pathways and lighting, river rehabilitation, installation of CCTV cameras and the upgrading of the northern precinct to include a coffee shop in the library and a plaza.
The library was first established in 1918 in Kruskal Avenue but moved to its current home in Carl van Aswegen Street in 1989.
The City’s plans to take a part of the reference library to build a coffee shop that extends into the park have been criticised by the Friends of the Bellville Library, which has supported the library since 1970.
Its chairman Kristy Hansen said the reference section had been created from scratch in 1989 and today boasted a collection worth millions of rands. It was also a quiet and secure place for students to study.
He questioned why a new coffee shop was needed when there was one already in the library centre.
“A new facility overlooking the park will not help to upgrade the park. The area is too small to make such a facility financially viable, and factors such as noise level, security, clientele and parking also argue against it,” he said.
JP Smith, mayoral committee member for safety and security; and social services, said the reference section would, however, be extended to the side to make up the space for extra seating. He said the staff room would be divided into a staff area and a discussion room for students working in groups.
“We also hope to create more IT infrastructure to create laptop-charging stations, as we currently do not have enough plug points for charging,” he said.
Besides the upgrades, Mr Hansen said the most pressing issue was the lack of parking at the library. “It had been suggested to several councillors in the past to convert the park into a multi-functional parking area, with food trucks or kiosks — a combination of the Grand Parade and Oude Libertas parking area in Stellenbosch.” Mr Smith, however, said the City’s recreation and parks department had agreed to extend the staff parking by another 10 bays into the park so the current staff parking could be shared by library users. He said they had previously received complaints about parking, although there had been fewer this year. Former chief librarian Ilze Swart said the park had degraded into an unsafe place over the years with people being robbed, attacked and break-ins occurring at the library itself. “It is criminal to waste taxpayers’ money to upgrade an unsafe park at the expense of a well-used library service to the community,” she said.
However, Bellville police spokeswoman Warrant Officer Henrietta van Niekerk welcomed the park upgrades, saying they would reduce crime. There had been problems in the past with muggings and homeless people sleeping there, but not recently, she said. But, she cautioned that the park remained an escape route for criminals because it was hard for police vehicles to enter. The City said it hoped the upgrades would arrest a decline in library visitors and instead attract new patrons Mr Smith said a total of 454 843 items were circulated at the library for 2016, 128 649 fewer than the 2015 circulation statistics. The circulation statistics also showed a steep decline from 2014 to 2015. “A total of 322 611 people visited the library during 2016, an average of 1 076 people visiting the library on a daily basis. The annual gate statistics reflect a steep decline from 466 586 in 2015 to 436 340 in 2016 – a difference of 30 246 in one year.” The library will be closed from Monday September 11 to Tuesday September 26 for the retiling of the foyer.Tuesday September 26 for the retiling of the foyer.