Falmouth council reaches consensus on library space

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FALMOUTH — After a lengthy discussion Monday the Town Council unanimously passed a resolution recommending a minimum of about 12,900 square feet of assignable floor space for a future library building or expansion.

The current library building is 10,800 square feet.

The resolution, drafted by the Falmouth Memorial Library Board of Trustees, does not include non-assignable space, such as bathroom and furnace space, which was set at a range of 25 percent to 30 percent of the total buildable area.

During its discussion, the council struck language from the resolution that would have set a range of 17,300 to 23,500 square feet for the total building area.

Councilor Will Armitage cautioned against being too specific in the resolution, explaining that he did not want the town to be tied to a number before a location and formal proposal are considered.

“This is just going to get thrown back in our face,” Armitage said.

But other councilors disagreed, arguing that a resolution citing specific space needs is part of a previously determined path the council would take toward ultimately sending the decision to Falmouth voters.

“At the end of the day, it’s not us, it’s the town that will decide,” Vice Chairwoman Teresa Pierce said.

The resolution came after the library trustees hired consultant Nolan Lushington to evaluate the library’s space needs, something he said during a public presentation that he was uncomfortable predicting more than five years out.

However, Lushington did provide a 20-year recommendation after councilors specifically requested he disregard the town’s political and economic landscape.

The council formally accepted Lushington’s entire report in its resolution Monday night, although it is not obligated to act upon his recommendations when deciding where and how the library will expand.

The council also suspended its rules to take public comment on the matter. Several people spoke, including Lisa Preney, a founder of the group Falmouth Citizens for Sound Choices and a critic of the library’s space needs process.

“I’m overwhelmed by the amount of information that’s come into the room tonight,” Preney said. “Everything moves so rapid fire, I don’t know how you’re going to have budget discussions.”

A group of citizens who collected more than 1,100 signatures at the polls Nov. 2 asking that the council preserve the Lunt and Plummer-Motz buildings for civic use and send a question to voters, presented their petition to the council Monday night.

Marsha Clark, who sat on the Facilities Planning Committee that produced a report to the council this spring, said the response to the petition was overwhelming.

“The people who signed this put trust in the council to put forth good-faith effort and to put forth a fiscally responsible plan to preserve this space,” she said.

During the meeting, the council also considered space needs for a proposed community center, which would contain a gymnasium, meeting space and multipurpose classroom space.

Lucky D’Ascanio, community programs director, presented a proposed community center, ranging in size from 8,000 square feet for just classroom, office and meeting space, to more than 18,000 square feet to include a gym and more than 38,000 square feet with a gym and pool. D’Ascanio’s presentation compared the three proposals to other community centers and town-owned buildings around the state.

“This is not a new concept,” she said, explaining that the town began considering a community center in conjunction with the Ocean View retirement facility in 1997.

D’Ascanio directly compared the proposed center’s space needs range to four other communities: South Portland with its 36,000-square-foot center (60,000 square feet including a pool); Gorham’s more than 20,000-square-foot center; Caribou’s nearly 32,000 square feet, and Wiscasset’s center, which is 28,000 square feet (35,000 including a pool).

“Community programs is a unique department — we’re a revenue-generating department,” D’Ascanio said, explaining that increasing the number of programs offered could decrease the percentage the town currently spends on overhead, making the entire department more self-sufficient.

Former Councilor Fred Leighton asked the council to include a community center in its future plans for the Lunt and Plummer-Motz spaces.

“I’m not sure we can afford not to do this,” he said. “Maybe we can’t do it all at once, but we can do it. … This is for everyone.”

The council did not take action on the community center space needs. Discussion of the issue, including options for Town Hall, is scheduled to continue at every council meeting through the rest of the year.

Emily Parkhurst can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or eparkhurst@theforecaster.net