Council vote, not referendum, likely on Cape Elizabeth library renovation

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CAPE ELIZABETH — Town councilors are considering an October vote to fund rebuilding of Thomas Memorial Library, without a public bond referendum.

A preliminary time line discussed in a council workshop Monday calls for a Sept. 17 public hearing and Oct. 10 council vote on what could be a two-part borrowing plan.

“I just want to say when October rolls around, I want to vote, Councilor David Sherman said at the conclusion of the 75-minute workshop. Further time-line discussion will be part of the April 9 Town Council meeting.

Councilors could first vote to borrow between $600,000 and $700,000 to pay for the final design and planning to essentially replace the library on Scott Dyer Road. A second bond of an as-yet-undetermined amount could face a council vote the same night.

Councilors and Town Manager Michael McGovern said they know a council vote to borrow money without a voter referendum could eventually lead to a town referendum to overturn the council vote.

The timeline calls for creating a building committee and hiring an architectural or construction firm to draft final plans in 2013.

Between now and the suggested September public hearing, councilors and Thomas Memorial Library trustees will collaborate on efforts to educate residents and gather input on what they want from the library.

The time line councilors discussed involves a project “with a scope similar to that proposed to the council last year,” according to the document.

Last summer, current and former councilors and McGovern were presented with preliminary plans to expand the library by about 10,000 square feet to 23,000 square feet.

Cost estimates of $8.5 million have been attached to the project, and Portland-based consultant Demont Associates has suggested a minimum of $1.75 million could be raised privately to fund the project.

McGovern suggested construction could begin in July 2014, with repayment of bonds beginning a year later, at the start of fiscal year 2016. By that time, the combined outstanding debt on municipal and school bonds will have been reduced by $8 million to about $10.6 million.

McGovern added that any final cost of library reconstruction is still conjecture.

“The council never zeroed in on a definite number,” he said.

As councilors and library trustees move forward, a committee of school officials and councilors will survey what town and school capital spending needs may be over the next decade.

Councilor Frank Governali said an outside study of capital needs will be paid for with town surplus overlay funds. The study may take several months and should not determine whether the library project should proceed, but it will give officials and the public a better idea of what future building projects need to be considered.

Although it has been in its current location since about 1943, the building housing Thomas Memorial Library is about 160 years old and has been in several locations in town.

Although she will weigh public opinion and input before deciding her support for library reconstruction, council Chairwoman Sara Lennon said she has become more aware that less costly renovations in the $1 million or $2 million range will not be adequate.

“This is going to be a total tear-down and rebuild,” Lennon said.

David Harry can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or [email protected]. Follow David on Twitter: @DavidHarry8.

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.