Falmouth to loan library $283K for expansion

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FALMOUTH — An effort to expand the town library reached a milestone Monday when the Town Council authorized a more than $283,000 loan for the library to purchase a neighboring property.

The loan, approved by a 6-1 vote, constitutes a major victory for the library board, but construction isn’t necessarily imminent.

The Kowalsky property, at 6 Lunt Road, has long been considered a linchpin in a $5 million plan to grow Falmouth Memorial Library by 73 percent, from 10,700 square feet to 18,600 square feet.

A larger building requires more parking spaces and, in this case, the proposed addition of 33 spaces meant acquiring more land, according to an architect’s conceptual design.

The terms of the short-term, interest-free loan call for the library board to repay the town by June 30, 2019. If, however, the library repays $250,000 of the obligation by June 30, 2017, the remaining $33,500 would be waived as an early repayment incentive.

The loan, which will be drawn from the town’s unassigned fund balance, is a different tack from what was originally proposed.

Late last year, the library board had asked the town to purchase the Kowalsky property at $315,000. More recently, however, the Town Council and library board settled on the idea of a loan, which makes the library responsible for maintaining the property and requires it to chip in $31,500 toward the purchase.

Last year, the town and the Kowalskys negotiated a purchase agreement of $315,000 for 9 Lunt Road – a three-bedroom, two-bath, Cape Cod-style home on a mostly wooded lot of slightly more than half an acre. The agreement was set to expire on April 15.

At the earliest, the project will begin in 2015. In the meantime, the library has contracted Ovation Fundraising Counsel to help raise capital for the $5 million project. Any gap in funding would likely be put to voters in a referendum vote.

If the effort is successful, the house at 9 Lunt Road will likely be razed to make room for a parking lot. If the project does not go forward, the property would likely be sold to repay the town’s loan.

In the meantime, it might be opened as a rental home with the library board serving as landlords, according to board President Mark Porada.

Although the Town Council expressed unanimous support for the library’s expansion, Councilor Russ Anderson, who cast the dissenting vote and has been a vocal critic of the plan to buy the Kowalsky property, reiterated his position during a lengthy discussion Monday.

“My question all along has been: Isn’t there a more cost-effective way of acquiring the parking needed for an expanded building?” he said. “I’ve tried to get comfortable with it, but there are a lot of other parking options available. We have an easement at the (American) Legion, specifically for the use of library patrons.”

Councilor Sean Mahoney said he “respectfully disagreed” with Anderson, but added that he wanted the library to explore all other parking alternatives, whether on-street parking or at the American Legion, before building a new lot at 9 Lunt Road.

Porada, addressing the council, said remote parking sites would be a disservice to the bulk of its patrons.

“A large percentage of the library’s users fall on the two ends of the age spectrum,” he said. “We have young children with their parents or caregivers and elderly people. They have been very clear that they want to (park) as close as they can and it’s not particularly reasonable to expect those demographic groups to park on the street in the wintertime … and leap over snow banks.”

Ultimately, Mahoney’s caveat was added to the order that authorized the loan.

The expansion proposal also calls for demolition of the library’s Iverson House, construction of a new 11,320-square-foot addition, and renovation of an existing 7,280-square-foot space.

The cost breakdown for 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).

The library opened in 1952 in the Iverson House, which was originally a home. In 1995, a $1.25 million wing was added, doubling the overall size at the time.

Falmouth Memorial Library is a private nonprofit, not an entity of the town. Still, about 75 percent of the library’s annual budget is taxpayer-funded. As another stipulation of the loan, the library is required to repay the loan with funds other than what the town provides.

Ben McCanna can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or bmccanna@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @BenMcCanna.