Councilor grills Falmouth library officials on expansion plan

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FALMOUTH — A proposed $5 million expansion of Falmouth Memorial Library gained widespread support from the Town Council, but not without some tough questions about cost.

About 20 people attended the Town Council meeting on Wednesday, Nov. 13, which featured presentations by library President Mark Porada and architect Scott Simons, plus comments from the public, which were largely positive.

The council took no action on the proposal, which calls for demolition of the library’s Iverson House, construction of a new 11,320-square-foot addition, renovation of an existing 7,280-square-foot space and the purchase of an adjacent property.

In all, the library would grow by 73 percent from it existing size to a total of 18,600 square feet on a single floor. Currently, the library is about 10,700 square feet.

For the most part, the council expressed overwhelming support for the proposal.

But Councilor Russ Anderson grilled the planners with a series of questions on costs, particularly the $315,000 needed to buy the Kowlasky property, which would accommodate an expanded and redesigned parking area between Lunt and Depot roads.

Anderson prefaced his questions by saying “there’s no question (the library expansion) is needed,” but also said his primary responsibility as a councilor is to spend tax dollars responsibly.

Anderson then asked Simons whether he considered adding a second floor to reduce construction costs, and whether the existing property could accommodate increased parking simply by closing off the Depot Road entrance and adding additional spots there.

Anderson also questioned the accuracy of the library’s circulation rates, and its fundraising plan, which drew jeers from at least one audience member.

In his response, Simons said purchasing the Kowalsky property is necessary for several reasons:

• It will allow planners to redesign the parking lot to slow traffic between Lunt and Depot roads, which would improve pedestrian and traffic safety.

• The expansion of the facility requires additional parking spaces.

• And ownership of the Kowalsky property will allow future parking expansion if there are any additions to the facility.

Library board member Marsha Clark said circulation numbers are high at the library because of town demographics.

“There’s a correlation between library use and education level,” she said. “We’re a highly educated community; a community that values education.”

Earlier in the night, Porada said circulation at Falmouth Memorial Library circulation is higher than in the state’s six largest municipalities, which include Portland and Bangor. On average, he said, every Falmouth resident checks out 16 library items per year.

Resident John Winslow – the only audience member to speak in opposition to the plan – said he wasn’t satisfied with the data from the library. He would like to know how many of those library users live outside Falmouth, and would like the library to impose fees on them.

“This is no longer a community-of-Falmouth library, but rather a greater Portland resource center, funded by taxpayers of Falmouth,” he said.

Fourteen other audience members, mostly library board members, spoke in favor of the plan, including Alex Agnew, who praised the archictect’s use of environmentally sensitive materials and design.

“To put a super-high-quality building in the center of our town is an important demonstration of what we think of ourselves, what we think of our kids, what we think of our families,” he said. “If we put a junkier building in there, I think it would be a terrible mistake.”

A week earlier, the library board hired Ovation Fundraising Counsel to help raise capital for the expansion. Ovation’s first task is to estimate how much private or corporate money can be raised for the project and to provide that information to the council in March, before the Kowalsky offer expires in April.

At that meeting, the library board might propose a funding plan for the Town Council to condier, according to library Vice President Amy Kuhn.

Anderson said Ovation’s schedule might complicate his decisions on the council.

“It would be hard for me to recommend committing funds for this before there is any demonstrated fundraising results,” he said.

The cost breakdown for the estimated $5 million project is about $3.2 million for the new construction and $320,000 to renovate existing space (based on rate estimates of $290 per square foot for energy efficient construction and materials, plus $45 per square foot renovations).

Earlier plans called for 22,000 square feet, but the new, 18,600-square-foot design would still accommodate projected growth in 15 years, according to Simons. Also, the one-story building could later be expanded to include a 10,000-square foot, U-shaped second floor.

Falmouth Memorial Library is a private nonprofit, not an entity of the town. Still, about 75 percent of the library’s budget is taxpayer-funded.

The library opened in 1952 and was originally a home. A $1.25 million wing was added in 1995, doubling its size.

If approved, the project could begin as early as 2015.

Corrections: An earlier version of this story incorrectly spelled the name of the Kowalsky property. It was a reporter’s error. The earlier version also listed incorrect costs for the Kowalsky property and the library’s 1995 addition. Those were source errors.

Ben McCanna can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or Follow him on Twitter: @BenMcCanna.