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Plans for Thomas Memorial Library renovations outlined

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Plans for Thomas Memorial Library renovations outlined

Consultants propose demo, moving Spurwink School building
CAPE ELIZABETH — A town-hired library consulting firm presented a needs assessment of the Thomas Memorial Library to the public Monday, along with initial design ideas for renovations that would address those needs.
Wisconsin-based Himmel & Wilson was hired by the Thomas Memorial Library Study Committee along with Casaccio Architects of Pennsylvania and technology consultant LMA Techwork of Illinois to study the potential for improving the library. The committee was formed in Nov. 2007, the firms were hired in June 2008. Funds for the study were provided by the Thomas Memorial Library Foundation and private donations from the families of Marion Chase and Barbara Chase.
Bill Wilson presented his firm's findings Monday in a public meeting, outlining six major structural deficits of the current structure, sharing public comments gathered from interviews and surveys, and outlining four initial concept plans which will be tweaked by further public and town input.
Areas found to be deficient in the current structure, located on Scott Dyer Road, include:
• Poor access to the building's multiple levels.
• Outdated heating and electrical systems.
• Insufficient floor-loading capacity.
• Moisture and potential mold problems.
• Inefficient work flow in the fragmented structure.
• Lack of space to expand services or collections.
Structural problems, including low ceilings, exposed pipes, and moisture issues were found to be worst in the 51-year-old annex behind the original 1849 Spurwink School. Similar issues are also troubling in the Pond Cove Annex, located behind the original Pond Cove School portion of the library. The problems exist but are not as bad in the Pond Cove and Spurwink school buildings.
Issues in the connector building, which was built in 1985 to connect the library to the former Pond Cove School Annex, are more related to traffic and work flow troubles generated in that well-used portion of the library, which is not on the same floor as most of the book collections.
Because of the extent of work flow issues – library staff must carry books by hand up and down stairs to re-shelve them – Wilson suggested that running the library over an extended period of time is actually more expensive than building a new one.
"The capital costs are less than the operating costs," he said, when books are returned on the wrong level, nobody uses the elevators, and books are carried up and down stairs by hand.
The additional work generated by the fragmented building adds millions of dollars to operating costs over 20-year planning periods, he said.
Comments generated by the public over the last few months in interviews and surveys, Wilson said, include a general love of the "quirkiness" of the existing library and its historical buildings, but also a desire for more accessibility and compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, a deeper collection of books, energy efficiency, maximized staff efficiency, better meeting facilities, and more comfortable places to sit and read.
The "conundrum," Wilson said, is that "many people want the library to be something it can't be given the existing facilities."
"It's a good library right now," he said, "but it's not a great library."
Wilson suggested that while some of the structural issues could be addressed by a "Band-Aid" solution, spending upwards of $1 million to build elevators, replace the Spurwink foundation and add to the connector section, that solution would be a short-lived, poor investment for the town, and would not address the desire for expanded services.
Wilson and Kevin Whitney of Casaccio Architects presented four initial schematics for a renovated library, which would incorporate the historic Pond Cove and Spurwink schools, but get rid of both annex additions as well as the connector sections. Three of the designs showed differing locations and orientations for each of the various functional areas of the library, like the children's and adult sections and meeting space, at approximately the existing location of the library. The fourth involved flipping the building to the other side of the existing parking lot, changing the orientation of the campus to better utilize green space and possibly better connect the school and library campuses.
In each design, the consultants suggested that moving the Spurwink School – which has been done several times in the past – and encapsulating it within the new library would best preserve and present that historic portion of the building. The historic Pond Cove School section of the library is proposed to remain as is and house historic collections.
A new structure is proposed to be about 20,000 square feet compared to the current 13,000 square feet. Initial cost estimates put the price tag between $4 million and $7 million.
Wilson acknowledged that the project may be seem unrealistic in this economic climate, but also added that with construction costs at an all-time low, the project may yet have legs.
Further design work is expected to include more public input. Interactive design sessions were held this week; further information will be available on the committee's page on the town Web site.
A final report from the committee including the concept plan and a funding plan are due to the Town Council before May.
Sarah Trent can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 108 or strent@theforecaster.net.

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