Falmouth library expansion, renovation up to voters

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FALMOUTH — Voters will head to the polls Nov. 4 for a single local ballot question: whether to fund renovation and expansion of Falmouth Memorial Library.

The project will cost $5.6 million, with the town committed to financing half, or just over $2.8 million. The rest will be funded by a capital campaign organized by the library board of trustees.

Projected pre-construction costs for library expansion would cost $302,000 of bond proceeds. This would include design development, survey revisions, construction documents and bidding, plus others, which would occur in the nine-month period leading up to construction.

The anticipated average interest rate on the proposed bond is between 2.75 percent and 3.5 percent. An assumed 3.3 percent interest rate on a 20-year term would yield a cost of more than $970,000. This means the town’s total estimated debt service would actually be over $3.78 million.

Library Director Andi Jackson-Darling said the project “will give us the space we’ve needed for quite a while.”

She said there has been a lot of demand for additional programming, and more people are using the library and accessing its website. She said there has also been increased demand for books.

“People really like the social aspect of public libraries, which I find really interesting,” Jackson-Darling said. She said she sees this as the “pendulum going back and forth.”

She said the library has been putting off a number of renovation projects, like replacing carpets, because of the looming expansion project.

“As far as we’re concerned, staff is really exited about possibility of renovation and expansion,” Jackson-Darling said. “It will be nice to move forward.”

She said that just because e-books are becoming increasingly available “doesn’t mean they’re free just because they’re on the Internet.”

“I always find it ironic when people talk about libraries disappearing,” Jackson-Darling said. “Public libraries don’t disappear because of e-books, but because of lack of interest.”

Opposition to the referendum comes from a group called Falmouth Citizens for Sound Choices, an organization that spearheaded opposition to the town center referendum in 2011.

David Libby, a co-founder of the organization and a former town councilor, said he doesn’t think anyone is against the library, but rather they are against the expansion. He said small renovations would be fine, but a project this large is still too great a cost to town.

“We just spent $11 million on Route 1, and I’d like to know when the last time was we gave our employees in the town a decent raise,” Libby said. “Our priorities in this town are becoming disoriented.”

“I don’t believe we need to be spending close to $6 million on that library,” Libby said. “I think you could tear it down and build a brand new one for that kind of money.”

Libby said the organization’s members never spoke out at Town Council meetings or public hearings because the library plan has moved through like a “freight train at midnight.”

“When you have a Town Council like we have the make up of it right now, it’s a foregone conclusion that they’re all library supporters, they’re tax-and-spend people, and so why waste our time?” Libby said. “I don’t even go to Town Council meetings now, it’s just a waste of my time.”

Libby said the organization will ramp up its efforts soon, with letters, social media, ads, and political signs.

“I don’t oppose the library, I think it is a great, great community asset,” Libby said. “But it’s becoming a political nightmare now. And I don’t think big contributors of the library want to see that happen. Let’s bring some sense to all this madness.”

Libby pointed out this is not the first time revamping the library has gone to referendum. In the 2011 “town center” referendum, voters turned down a $5.65 million plan that, in part, would have turned the former Lunt School building into a space for the library.

He said with growing online readership of books and newspapers, spending this much money on renovating the library doesn’t make sense, especially since all three public schools each have a library.

“I believe we’d be better off, and someone said this the last time, spending four or five million dollars on providing every taxpayer in town an iPad,” Libby said, “rather than spend this kind of money on out-dated technology.”

Colin Ellis can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or cellis@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @colinoellis.

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Reporter covering the Portland Public School District as well as the town of Falmouth for The Forecaster. Can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or cellis@theforecaster.net.