Falmouth library directors: No expansion without land acquisition

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FALMOUTH — The Falmouth Memorial Library board has drawn an apparent line in the sand, deciding that a proposed $5 million expansion project should not move forward without acquisition of an adjacent parcel of land.

That assessment is included in a four-page letter addressed to Town Councilor Russ Anderson in response to his skepticism during a Nov. 13, meeting. A copy of the letter was obtained by The Forecaster on Monday, shortly after a presentation to the Town Council by library President Mark Porada.

The letter states that purchasing the adjacent $315,000 lot, known as the Kowalsky property, is a critical step in the proposed project. The lot would accommodate an expanded and redesigned parking area between Lunt and Depot roads.

“Every study has concluded that the library could not expand on site to meet current and future needs without the acquisition of abutting land,” the letter states. “It is the opinion of the trustees that the expansion should not occur without the acquisition of the property.”

On Monday, during the regular meeting of the Town Council, Porada offered brief responses to Anderson’s questions from the previous meeting, adding that a full written response would soon be available on the library website and delivered to councilors.

Most of Porada’s answers echoed the discussion from Nov. 13, but he covered new ground when discussing details about the proposed parking lot. Anderson had asked planners whether the parking lot entrance from Depot Road could be closed to create more parking spaces, and thus eliminate the need for the Kowalsky property.

Porada, citing an engineer’s assessment, said a dead-end parking lot is “not advisable.” Closing the northern entrance might gain a few spaces, but those spaces would be negated by the necessary addition of a turnaround for vehicles, he said, adding that dead-end parking lots also complicate snow removal and would create a heavier concentration of traffic near the library’s entrance, which could affect pedestrian safety.

The property would also make future expansion possible, he said.

After the meeting, Porada said Anderson’s questions from the previous meeting were fair.

“We’re happy to look at any concerns people have,” he said.

Anderson said afterward he hadn’t yet received a copy of the letter, but Porada’s spoken answer had not persuaded him.

“I think there are more discussions that need to take place,” he said. “I’m not convinced we can’t meet the parking needs of this expansion without buying that property. I think that is a potential way to save money on this project. We need to keep talking about it and look at our options.”

The meeting on Nov. 13 featured presentations by 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 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 Anderson questioned planners with a series of questions on costs, which drew jeers from at least one audience member.

The library board has commissioned a fundraising campaign through 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 offer to purchase the Kowalsky property expires in April.

At that meeting, the library board might propose a funding plan for the Town Council to consider.

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 bmccanna@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @BenMcCanna.