$1.5M bond for library could be on Yarmouth ballot

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YARMOUTH — The Town Council will decide Thursday on whether to put a $1.5 million borrowing plan for library improvements on the June ballot.

It could be a tough sell with voters, who face other immediate and long-term budget challenges.

The bond, which increased by $500,000 after original estimates of $1 million were redeveloped, would pay for structural and integrity upgrades, mainly bringing the Merrill Memorial Library building into compliance with building safety codes.

The more-than-a-century-old building currently lacks several safety elements. It is still equipped with original wiring dating to 1905, does not have a sprinkler system and has inadequate fire escapes.

The bond money will help remedy those problems by installing new wiring, a sprinkler system and developing a new egress, which includes the construction of a glass-wall fire barrier built floor to ceiling in the reading room to create safe fire exits from the third floor. The wall would separate two stairwells, creating at least one safe exit in the event of a fire.

If the bond is moved to a referendum, voters will have to weigh the importance of the library against the burden of two other significant borrowing measures passed by voters last November: a $2.88 million bond for remodeling of the public works garage and a $1.5 million bond for a replacement turf field at Yarmouth High School.

“We do realize we’re coming in on the heels of the turf field and public works garage,” said Heidi Grimm, Merrill Memorial Library director. “Most of the people I’ve talked are supportive, although you can feel it in the air that people are a little bit hesitant.”

In addition to the safety features being added with the bond money, the plan would also add another bathroom – currently the building has a single restroom on the first floor – and would build a new covered entrance that connects the parking lot to the building.

The covered entrance would also act as a shield for patrons, blocking falling snow and ice that collects between the original building and its 1988 addition.

The Library Board of Trustees has also started a private fundraising campaign to raise an additional $1 million for other enhancements and improvements, such as new floor tiles, replacements for ceiling tiles damaged by a leaking roof and new paint in some of the rooms.

Gro Flatebo, vice president of the board, said the bond and the private funds are for essential items that are “non-sexy, but really important pieces” of the building.

Flatebo will present the plan for the library to the council Thursday night with photos, an outline of why they need the renovations and how the money will be spent, she said.

“I think our library is almost like a community center, it’s in the heart of the village. People appreciate the library and feel it’s a signature building,” she said. “So I’m hoping that translates into positive votes (in June).”

On top of the almost $5 million in bonds passed last year, the town and School Department are also facing mounting budget pressures from the state, including a more than $400,000 revenue loss for schools, the disappearance of municipal revenue sharing, paying to fund half of teacher pensions and reductions in the homestead exemption.

The town is also challenged by a long-term budget pressure with the depreciation of the oil-fired Wyman Station power plant, which has decreased in value by more than half to about $95 million in the last couple decades. 

The council’s meeting is at 7 p.m., Thursday, in the Log Cabin, 196 Main St.

Will Graff can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or wgraff@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @W_C_Graff.