Fri, Oct 31, 2014 ●
BathHarpswellTopshamBrunswickCumberlandNorth YarmouthFalmouthFreeportPortlandCape ElizabethScarboroughSouth PortlandChebeague IslandYarmouth

Forecaster Forum: The case for moving Falmouth Memorial Library

Opinion

Forecaster Forum: The case for moving Falmouth Memorial Library

The trustees of Falmouth Memorial Library deeply appreciate the Town Council’s November vote that recognized the library’s need for space and goal to identify a flexible solution reflecting the programming space recommendations of library consultant Nolan Lushington.

A diverse group with professional expertise in a number of areas, members of the board volunteered to serve our community because we are readers, we love libraries in general and we appreciate this library in particular. No trustee set out in this endeavor either with a final vision in mind, cherry-picking data to support it, or because he or she does not like the current library.

Having experienced the negative impacts created by our space constraints, the trustees have advocated publicly for alternatives for almost eight years. Since 2003, several boards have received formal proposals for renovating the existing library space; each has rejected these options for largely similar reasons.

This board agrees that a solution to the library’s space needs must be fiscally prudent. We have collectively re-examined both the older and newer options and have listened to the deliberations of the council, public feedback and the advice of a number of consultants, including Jay Lucker, Lushington, and various designers, architects, and engineers. We have presented the council with data-driven conclusions.

The trustees have addressed the question: How can the library stay where it is? Previous designs for expanding the current building include adding a second floor, moving Depot Road and purchasing adjacent lots. We recognize the library’s excellent location as a valuable asset. The library remains a testament to the countless volunteer hours spent in its comforting walls and the community efforts put into the last expansion. However, the library – built upon the leaking foundation of a house on a small triangular lot – is significantly limited by its location.

In April 2010, Falmouth resident and engineer Jim Thibodeau, of Associated Design Partners, analyzed the structural integrity of the library and its existing systems. At the Town Council meeting on Dec. 13, 2010, Thibodeau clarified his report’s recommendations (much misunderstood and discussed) and also presented new work the library commissioned in light of Lushington’s findings. Thibodeau’s detailed analysis, available on the town website, supports the trustees’ conclusion: building on the existing site is not a wise investment.

This painful decision is akin to selling the family farm. It is not a conclusion the trustees came to lightly or quickly. Moving the library to another location is the best investment of the town’s limited resources. We have drawn this difficult conclusion based on several factors:

• Lot shape. The triangle bordered by two streets greatly limits our ability to grow. It is a very small lot.

• Parking. Without the addition of more land, we cannot meet the current minimum parking-space threshold for an addition. Even if that standard were lowered, on-street parking and obtaining zoning variances would have to be considered.

• Lot coverage. With an additional structure and paved parking, we would exceed town limits on lot coverage.

• Residential neighborhood. A large second story or a significant addition would produce a commercial-size building bordering a residential neighborhood.

• Re-routing Depot Road. This would significantly alter traffic patterns, and although some residents favored this idea, members of the American Legion and some neighbors oppose this expensive proposition.

• Obtaining abutters’ property. Board President Chantal Walker has spoken with each abutter. One is interested in discussing a possible sale; the other is not. The library does not need the houses, only the land. We would be asking donors and taxpayers to pay for a house at appraised value only to tear that house down. The trustees do not believe it is in the town’s best interest to spend almost half a million dollars to tear down someone’s family home to put up a parking lot.

• American Legion property. Several people have suggested using some of the American Legion Post 164’s property. The library enjoys a great relationship with the legion. Over the years and several times in the past few months, Lyn Sudlow, Falmouth Memorial Library director, has met with Legion Cmdr. Arthur Schade, and former Cmdr. Arthur Fredrickson. In late November, the commanders advised the library that their membership could not reach any consensus about the future disposal of the American Legion property.

• No more room. Once developed, the library would have no more room to grow if needed in the future without addressing these same issues all over again.

If the library site had a better lot shape and room to expand, the board's conclusion would be different. However, given the issues with the building, the lot constraints, and the challenges and expense of obtaining adjacent lots and/or moving well-traveled streets, the trustees have concluded that it is not in the long-term fiscal interests of the town to renovate or expand the library in its current location.

The trustees’ goal remains identifying a permanent location that offers both the potential for the library to expand and for a change of use if the needs of the town and the library change. The trustees do not want to continue to revisit this issue every decade, as has been the case over the past 20-plus years. Many of these decisions are not the trustees’ to make; hence our collaboration and cooperation with the Town Council.

For almost eight years, the library and the town have wrestled with the issue of expansion and relocation. Now, with the availability of the school campus, the town must make some critical decisions and move this process forward. We ask the council to consider our needs and continue to make a wise investment in the library.

Julie Rabinowitz is vice president of the Falmouth Memorial Library board of trustees.