Falmouth library, facing unexpected construction costs, seeks another $1M

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FALMOUTH — Trustees of Falmouth Memorial Library say they need $1 million more than the $5.6 million already allocated to complete a long-planned renovation and expansion of the institution.

Marsha Clark, president of the library board of trustees, on Monday blamed unexpectedly high construction costs. She said the best solution to the shortfall would be a bond on the November municipal ballot to authorize borrowing more than the $2.81 million already approved by voters.

Clark told the Town Council the library built in an inflation factor of 5 percent when determining how much money would be needed to double the size of the building at the corner of Depot and Lunt roads.

But when the board went out to bid earlier this summer, it was shocked at how much the costs had increased for every aspect of the project. In some cases, Clark said, they were more than 100 percent greater than what was initially projected.

In addition, she said testing at the site has shown soils are poor and the stormwater management plan will have to be more robust than initially thought, which has also added significant costs.

Town Manager Nathan Poore said his rough estimate is that borrowing another $1 million could add 3 cents per $1,000 of valuation to the property tax rate in town.

Clark said trustees were shocked when they realized the project was coming in $2.2 million over the $5.6 million raised in the past four years to pay for what she called much-needed upgrades.

Voters approved borrowing $2.81 million for the project in a 2014 referendum, predicated on the library privately raising the other $2.81 million. At the end of last year the library announced it had raised its share and was ready to move forward.

Since then it has received site plan approval and completed required construction documents.

Clark, who was recently named Falmouth Citizen of the Year for her volunteerism and leadership of the library project, said trustees have been working to reduce the cost of the project without impacting the integrity of the plan. She said as a result of those discussions, $1.2 million was cut from the project, but that still left $1 million outstanding.

While councilors were sympathetic Monday, they also expressed concern. Councilor Aaron Svedlow said “that’s a big number” and argued the community has already been stretched to the limit to raise the initial $5.6 million.

“There’s a lot about this that doesn’t sit right,” Svedlow said. “There needs to be more thought and changes put into this.”

Scott Simons, the project architect, said “So many parts of this project have already been carefully thought out and we’ve already made a lot of adjustments and done the fine tuning.

“We’ve already done everything we can to reduce costs without sacrificing the programming,” Simons said. “Nobody saw this huge inflationary hit coming. This is my worst nightmare.”

Some items that have already been trimmed from the project include $500,000 for a basement, $187,000 for a stone facade, and not applying for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, or LEED, certification, Clark said.

She also said the Falmouth project is not the only one suffering from cost increases for materials and labor; a library project in Bar Harbor is about $1 million over budget, Clark said.

Poore also said the town has put off planned capital improvements on Blueberry Lane because the bids came in at double the anticipated cost.

“We did not consider this bond request lightly,” Clark said. “We talked about so many things, nothing was off the table.”

She said trustees considered a new site, but that would come with acquisition costs. They also thought about tearing down the existing building, rather than renovating and expanding it, but that also had too many drawbacks.

Clark said the board also looked into doing a smaller addition, but said “anything smaller does not fit our needs. Many years ago we agreed the optimal size was between 18,000 and 22,000 square feet.”

The project plans call for adding another 8,000 square feet of space, which would leave the library with an overall footprint of 18,000 square feet, “so we’re already at the lower end of what’s considered optimal,” she said.

The goal of the library project is to create a separate youth services wing, new community seating areas, a separate reading room and increased access to computers and other technology, among other upgrades.

Clark said the urgency behind requesting a bond referendum this fall is that the current building is failing.

“We had to close several times last year” due to deficient systems, she said Monday.

Poore said time is limited for the council to put a bond question on the ballot in November. Councilors would have to make a final decision no later than their Sept. 10 meeting.

In advocating for the bond, Clark said, “We feel people are ready for this project. People love the library and we believe the time is now” for the expansion to move forward.

Councilors ultimately asked the library to come back Aug. 13 with more details about what has been done to shave costs, what can be done to raise additional money from grants or other funding sources, and possibly new options for saving money.

The council also agreed to open the issue up to public comment at its next meeting, which is not usually allowed on non-voting items.

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

Falmouth Memorial Library says it needs another $1 million to move forward on a long-anticipated expansion and renovation.

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