Forecaster Forum: Bond will update, remediate Falmouth Memorial Library

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Falmouth voters have the opportunity in November to authorize the town to issue a bond to pay for half the cost of expanding Falmouth Memorial Library. I’d like to take the opportunity to address several questions residents may have when considering how to vote on the library referendum.

• How much will it really cost Falmouth taxpayers? The referendum asks voters to authorize the issuance of a bond for no more than $2.81 million to pay for half the cost of expanding the library. That equals a tax impact of approximately $32 per year for the life of the bond on a home assessed at $400,000. That’s about the cost of purchasing one hardcover book per year.

Library trustees are committed to fundraising the remaining half of the project costs, and have been advised by fundraising consultants that we can succeed on our goal. Other than a small amount that the town will pay up front for necessary pre-construction planning, no bond will be issued and no taxpayer funds will be spent on this project until the library successfully completes its fundraising campaign.

• Why are we recommending an expansion of this size? The current library facility is about 10,000 square feet. Library trustees, community members and outside experts spent hundreds of hours over the past 18 months evaluating the “right size” library for our community. The design we are proposing will total 16,000 square feet (an addition of 6,000 square feet), is consistent with space recommendations from several independent library consultants and is about 2,000 square feet less than was originally proposed.

This will be a library that meets current collection and programming needs; we are not building a library with any excess or unneeded capacity. Other spaces in town, like the elementary school library, are great resources for the targeted segments of the community they serve, but are not accessible to the public and are by no means a replacement for a public library.

• Were there less expensive options? Not that address all of the library’s current needs in a way that makes long-term fiscal sense. Library staff do a great job trying to make the space look fine on the surface. But beneath the veneer lurk a variety of extensive problems.

The constantly flooding basement has led to mold and air-quality problems that will require significant remediation, if that portion of the building is not removed. The basement, which previously was used to house the children’s collection and then for storage, is now unusable. The roof and sprinkler systems in the original building are failing. There are not nearly enough public computing stations or electrical outlets to meet the needs of our community. And there is no room to expand the collection; for every book added to the collection, a book needs to be taken away.

The proposed design, all on one level, will allow the library to continue operating without adding staff, despite the increase in size, because everything will be on one floor. Proposals to expand the library with multiple floors on a smaller footprint would only increase operational costs, eliminating any up-front construction savings within the span of a few years and costing more over the long term.

• Aren’t libraries going away? For years, some people have predicted the demise of libraries at the hands of technology. On the contrary, the number of library visitors has increased over the past 10 years, and our library ranks No. 1 in circulation per capita among the 30 largest communities in Maine, circulating 15 percent more items in 2013 than in 2003. Some people like to use e-readers, but unless they want to buy every book they read, they still need to use the library to borrow those e-books.

New technologies have changed some of the ways patrons use the library, but haven’t decreased the community’s overall need for the library as a public resource and gathering place.

Just as library uses have evolved, the library’s physical space likewise should reflect modern needs. This is a reasonable expansion plan that will allow our library to remain at its current location and to continue to provide the level of service this community rightfully expects.

Mark Porada is president of the Falmouth Memorial Library board of trustees.