Falmouth library cuts new bond request in half

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FALMOUTH — The president of Falmouth Memorial Library on Monday said pointing fingers and placing blame for the library renovation project’s cost overrun is counter-productive and only serves to divide the community.

“It’s easy to sit on the outside and throw stones,” library President Marsha Clark told the Town Council. “It’s nobody’s fault and it’s a disservice to lay blame. These are just the cards we were dealt and we’re working hard to find a solution.”

Clark also said she believes the library can reduce its previous request for $1 million in supplemental funding by $500,000, thanks to additional support from lead donor John Wasileski, who owns OceanView retirement community.

She said the $500,000 would be an “up to” request, with the library committing to doing everything it could to further reduce the requested borrowing.

Even so, several people, including two former town councilors, said it would be a mistake to put a bond on the November ballot seeking more funding for the expansion and renovation project that’s been in the works for several years.

Monday was the first chance members of the public had to respond to the news the project is significantly over budget. Originally slated to cost $5.6 million, Clark told the Town Council in late July that construction costs were coming in $2.2 million over initial projections.

At that time she said the board had done everything it could to reduce the overrun, and borrowing an additional $1 million seemed like the best way to avoid a substantial negative impact on the project.

Last month, Clark said the board had already considered and rejected a variety of options, including a different site or reducing the size of the project.

This week she reiterated that library trustees strongly believe the only way to go is for the project to stay put at the corner of Lunt and Depot roads, while increasing the size of the library to 18,000 square feet. 

“It’s the right thing for the town,” Clark said.

But with the need for additional borrowing, time is becoming a factor.

Town Manager Nathan Poore said the council would have to make a decision no later than mid-September to put a bond question on the town ballot this fall, and it may require a special meeting.

The council did not have a quorum Monday, so no votes or decisions could be made. The only councilors in attendance were Chairman Caleb Hemphill, Andrea Ferrante and Claudia King.

All three commended the library for reducing its new request for funding, but Ferrante also said, “I’m a big believer in staying within budget when possible.”

And Hemphill said “our truest hope” is for the library to raise all the additional funds itself so there would be no need to go out to voters again. “We all want a nice library,” he said, “but I hope we don’t have to spend any more (town) money.”

King said she appreciates “these are extraordinary circumstances, but I hope the library will continue to think of ways to reduce costs.”

Voters in 2014 approved borrowing $2.81 million for the project with the understanding that the library would privately raise another $2.81 million. It took more than three years, but last December the library announced it had finally raised its share and was ready to move forward.

That’s when the construction manager, Ledgewood Construction of South Portland, began hearing from general contractors and subcontractors that the costs for materials and labor had gone up exponentially. In fact, Clark said, in some cases the cost increase was 100 percent.

While Clark said Monday that the library board is confident in the work that Ledgewood and project architect Scott Simons are doing, several residents who spoke questioned the cost increases.

One speaker even called for the creation of an oversight committee by the Town Council to ensure the library is “going in the right direction.”

Former Councilor David Murray said he’s “distressed about the process” and asked the council to “dig in and make sure the construction and operating costs for the library are what we can afford.”

Charlie McBrady, another former councilor, said he believes the library is “super important,” but “I worry about the additional costs and increased taxes. I’m sure the architect and construction manager are top notch, but we have to figure out a way to work within the (original) budget.”

Walter Foss said he is a library supporter, but also argued that there’s lots of wasted space in the design for the new library, which he called “a castle.”

He also said that when the library first pitched the project to voters four years ago, it was clear and “explicitly understood” that the library would be responsible for any additional costs over the $2.81 million the town agreed to spend.

Several others, mostly library trustees, also spoke Monday. They were all in favor of putting a $500,000 bond on the ballot this fall.

Trustee Charles Einsiedler told councilors it would be irresponsible not to fulfill the vision for the library expansion and argued that the board has reduced the cost overrun “as much as possible.”

“A lot of people voted in favor last time and they should get the opportunity to vote again,” he said.

Kate Irish Collins can be reached at 710-2336 or kcollins@theforecaster.net. Follow Kate on Twitter: @KIrishCollins.

The Falmouth Memorial Library board says the existing site at Lunt and Depot roads is still best for an expanded library, despite a significant cost overrun.

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