FALMOUTH — Voters on Nov. 6 will decide whether to approve a request from Falmouth Memorial Library for the town to borrow an additional $500,000 to complete an expansion and renovation project.
In advocating for the new capital spending, supporters say libraries are more relevant than ever and the Falmouth institution must keep evolving to continue to meet patrons’ needs.
While there is no organized opposition to the proposed bond, several residents have publicly opposed the borrowing.
At public hearings and in published letters they have argued the library should stick with the original $5.6 million expenditure and be content with whatever that would buy, instead of seeking more money from taxpayers.
With the request for further funding, Lisa Joy said in a letter to The Forecaster, “the good faith of the Falmouth Memorial Library is on the line, (as taxpayers) approach, and will likely exceed, 80 percent funding” of the project.
Another letter writer, John F. Edwards, said the Falmouth library “is searching for relevance in an era when many Maine towns are losing their libraries. Taxpayers do not need to be supporting ukulele groups or other nonsensical programming.”
In comments to the Town Council, resident John Winslow said the library should “change course to make (the original $5.6) million work. … We are in the electronic age and we don’t need a repository for books.”
But library supporters like Vicki and Bob Swerdlow believe “the library is one of the greatest blessings in our communal lives” and that “Falmouth needs and deserves this expansion now.”
Library leaders say the supplemental funding is a maximum amount and could be reduced by further private fundraising or finding more cost savings in the overall project.
They’re hopeful the overwhelming support the expansion project received four years ago will carry over this fall.
In the 2014 referendum, residents agreed to pay half the cost of a new $5.6 million library if the organization could raise the other half.
The goal of the project is to enlarge the library to 18,000 square feet and provide a separate youth services wing and reading room, along with increased access to technology, among other updates.
The library was ultimately successful in raising its share of the initial cost, but in the meantime construction costs skyrocketed, leading to a cost overrun of $2.2 million.
After completing several rounds of value engineering, however, the library found $1.2 million in costs savings and also said it could raise an additional $500,000 on its own, reducing the total new amount requested from the town to $500,000.
In late August the Town Council voted 5-2, with Councilors Andrea Ferrante and Aaron Svedlow opposed, to put a bond referendum for the additional amount on the November ballot.
In an interview, Maura DeNoia, vice president of the library board of trustees, said it’s important to “maintain the integrity of the original design” as much as possible.
Immediate past President Marsha Clark added “we had very clear needs when we first went into this (four years ago). … The new building is at the low end of our space needs and we’re using every bit of space we have now.To cut (square footage) means cutting programs.”
DeNoia said the library is more than a repository of books. “It’s a great place to gather and learn, meet others and build a social network,” she said. “It’s a place where everyone can go free of charge. It’s a true resource.”
Both Clark and DeNoia also said now’s the time to move forward on the library expansion, not just because of the need for additional space, but because the current building is failing.
“The construction market is a very different environment now then it was four years ago,” DeNoia said. “And this type of (project overrun) is happening all over the state.”
Clark said construction costs went up 30-60 percent for all aspects of the project, which created a snowball effect.
“When we can explain that nothing was added and the project was not a grand building to start, and that we put in no more than we needed, most people understand,” she said. “I don’t know what we’ll do if the bond doesn’t pass. It would be a major blow.”
On Nov. 6, Falmouth voters will be asked whether they support borrowing an additional $500,000 for a long-planned expansion and renovation of Falmouth Memorial Library.