Falmouth councilors delay vote on library; residents criticize process

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FALMOUTH — The Town Council delayed a vote Monday on the library space needs resolution after a consultant’s final report came in late on Oct. 22, after the council agenda was published.

The report by consultant Nolan Lushington presented a recommended range of net usable space to add, from 13,000 square feet to 15,300 square feet, for the Falmouth Memorial Library to maintain its functionality.

Lushington indicated in the addendum to his final report that the high end of his recommendation reflects “a longer 20-year period of growth” as well as the “intense usage of the library by Falmouth residents …, ” where the initial report reflected only a five-year space needs projection.

The building now occupies 10,800 square feet, with nearly 6,500 square feet of usable area, according to the report.

“We were expecting something that would be a little simpler, but it didn’t turn out that way,” Town Manager Nathan Poore said.

A draft of the report was provided to the council and library board of trustees during a public meeting at the library on Oct. 18, where Lushington presented his findings on the library’s space needs and recommended the expansion.

During that meeting, Councilor Bonny Rodden asked that Lushington ignore the political and economic climate in Falmouth and make a recommendation for a space that takes into consideration the library’s popularity.

In the final version of the report, Lushington indicated that the high end of his recommendation ignores “potential changes in the future use of libraries beyond five years.”

Lushington did not weigh in on whether the library should move to the soon-to-be vacant Lunt School building, which was the recommendation made by the Community Facilities Planning Committee.

Some councilors and residents, including the citizen group Falmouth Citizens for Sound Choices, have opposed the proposed move as needlessly expensive when the library could be expanded at its existing site or not at all.

On Monday, several citizens asked for more clarity in the process and the opportunity to ask councilors and trustees questions about the process.

“It’s really important, if you want the public to participate, you have to be clear in what you’re doing and when you’re doing it,” said Marna Miller, who added that she has been trying to follow the council’s process, but was struggling to figure out when and where she could express her views.

Others, including Bob Hunt, Amy Winton and Alex Agnew, also expressed frustration with the level of public participation in the council’s process.

“Please tell me A to Z, page and verse, exactly what is going to happen from council’s point of view in regards to library space needs,” Hunt said.

Councilors postponed the resolution until after the library board can meet, which library representatives said could be in time for the Nov. 8 council meeting. The council will take public comment on the library report at that meeting and the resolution will be posted online the Thursday before the meeting.

Councilors also reached a consensus that ground rules drafted by town staff for discussion of the town center issue are unnecessary.

“Just because things get heated and people get mad,” Councilor Cathy Breen said, “doesn’t mean we’re all going to fall apart, that suddenly we don’t function anymore.”

In other business, the council also heard from Open Space Ombudsman Bob Shafto, who reiterated the town’s previously approved priorities of putting aside open space for wildlife and recreational use.

Shafto said the town had more than 2,100 acres of protected land, owned by private citizens, the state, the land trust and the town.

He also presented several opportunities for the future, including protecting property along the East Branch corridor, creating a canoe trail and protecting 57 vernal pools.

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