Cape Elizabeth council weighs $6M bond for library

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CAPE ELIZABETH — Town councilors will vote Monday on whether to place a $6 million bond referendum on the November ballot for renovation and reconstruction of Thomas Memorial Library.

If a bond is approved, work could begin in 2014 on the project, which is expected to cost a total of $7.5 million.

Councilors will also vote June 11 on scheduling a July 9 public hearing to discuss a Town Charter revision requiring a referendum on capital purchases and projects that cost $1 million or more.

The referendum question and possible charter revision are rooted to a degree in the on-again, off-again process of determining how the library project should proceed.

Early this year, it appeared councilors were ready to ask for a vote for the library bond. Then they reversed course by a slim 4-3 margin. Last month, the reversal was reversed and councilors decided to discuss borrowing at a workshop held last Monday.

The workshop came after a May 31 Town Hall session where councilors sought public input on the library proposal, which has been studied and planned for five years. The project drew wide support from more than 70 residents at the meeting, but not without reservations from some speakers.

Because discussions and information on town and library websites set a preliminary cost estimate at $8.5 million and used a conceptual plan presented last summer by Pennsylvania-based Casaccio Associates, some speakers were under the impression project plans were finalized.

Residents Philip Kaminsky and Louise Sullivan said the project presents a wider opportunity to determine the future of the town center.

“There are a lot of ideas out there that ought to be generated now,” Philip Kaminsky said, noting the police station is underused and could provide space for the library.

When councilors met in the workshop Monday, Town Manager Michael McGovern said there are already plans to move the Cape Elizabeth Historical Society to the police station, saving at least $400,000 in construction costs.

Thomas Memorial Library, located on Scott Dyer Road since 1943, is actually five separate structures cobbled together, Library Director Jay Scherma said. A 2009 study by Wisconsin-based library consultants Himmel & Wilson defined 102 deficiencies in the library.

Only the Pond Cove Annex building would be preserved in the renovation project, Scherma said.

While the rest will be razed, councilors emphasized the details of any reconstruction must be resolved by an appointed building committee working under the framework of a cost estimate.

A report by Portland-based Demont Associates said at least $1.75 million could be raised privately to pay for library reconstruction, but Councilors James Walsh and Frank Governali expressed some skepticism about the conclusion.

“I think we should take it as guidance, not a guarantee,” Governali said.

Robert Stier, chairman of the Thomas Memorial Library Foundation, estimated between $50,000 and $60,000 of privately raised money has already been spent to study future needs and preliminary designs for the library.

With a bond possibly headed to voters, councilors and staff also urged the public to visit Thomas Memorial Library to learn more about what is needed to improve and modernize the library.

The first library tour will be held from 10:30-11 a.m. on June 27. The complete tour schedule and additional library information is available on the town website.

Council support for the charter revision is mixed. Voters can already try to override a council decision to spend more than 0.05 percent of the town valuation for a project or purchase; the amount varies with property valuations, and is now  $855,000.

“I’m not sure I want it at all, but there is an expectation among the public,” Councilor David Sherman said about some kind of standard threshold to put council spending to a popular vote.

Walsh said he supports the increased public engagement the charter revision could create, but suggested citizen response about council spending has not always been well informed.

Monday’s council meeting begins at 7 p.m. at Town Hall.

David Harry can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or dharry@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidHarry8.

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Portland City Hall reporter for The Forecaster. Baltimore native, lived in Maine since 1989. A journalist since 2005, covering much of Cumberland and York counties. I joined The Forecaster in 2012.