Forecaster Forum: Question 1 is a one-time opportunity for Falmouth

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Falmouth referendum Question 1, the “Town Center” proposal, is a unique opportunity that is too good to pass up.

After much discussion, the majority of the library board of trustees voted April 3 to endorse the referendum. If it passes, it will solve the space problem that has afflicted the library for nearly a decade by allowing the library to expand into the Lunt School. It will do so at a much lower cost than constructing a new building on a privately owned site.

There is no question that the library needs more space. Since 2000, circulation of materials at the library has increased 58 percent; use of the interlibrary loan service has increased 3,000 percent, and use of the meeting rooms at the library has climbed 83 percent.

In 2003 and again in 2010, the library hired nationally recognized library consultants to assess our space needs. Both consultants came to the same conclusion: library use has outgrown the building. Dr. Jay Lucker recommended that the library should expand to a total of 16,114 feet, and Nolan Lushington endorsed a total of 16,783 square feet. (The library currently occupies 10,700 square feet.) This expanded area would allow for more work space and more public computers. (Patrons used public computers more than 8,600 times last year alone.) It would also provide dedicated space for popular library events like Story Time, seating areas for adults and teens, a reference desk, and space for handling the thousands of interlibrary loan items that are requested by patrons each year.

Some suggest that the advent of e-books will lessen the library’s need for space. However, the availability of e-books does not indicate the demise of the printed book. In August 2010, Newsweek reported, “Once they own an e-reader, only 15 percent of consumers say they stop purchasing books altogether.” Libraries across the country find that patrons who come into the library to use technology actually check out more printed books, too.

But the bottom line is that no matter how popular e-books are, they aren’t uniformly available at libraries. Major publishers like Macmillan and Simon & Schuster refuse to license their e-books for free circulation at libraries. So if you want to read Stephen King or Mary Higgins Clark, you’ll have to borrow a printed book. Even publishers who do license e-books to libraries impose rigid restrictions on use. A March 2011 article in The Forecaster on library e-book use in Maine notes that the system has libraries “over a barrel” because entire digital collections can be wiped clean following changes in use agreements with publishers or distributors. As long as people want free access to books and information, libraries will need to maintain collections of physical books.

Before the trustees voted unanimously to endorse a move to the Lunt/Plummer-Motz site, we thoroughly explored the possibility of expanding at our current location at 5 Lunt Road. We hired a team of Falmouth architects and an engineer to examine the site and propose expansion plans. What they discovered is that, in order to stay, the library must buy the neighboring residence and tear it down to create a parking lot. Part of the adjacent residence, which the owner has said is not for sale, is also required for parking.

Still, the biggest deterrent to expanding on site is the expense. A detailed opinion by the engineer gave a total project cost at the current library of $3.21 million. Expanding at Lunt would cost about $3 million. For less than the cost of expanding, the Library will gain a larger, more flexible space with ample parking. And, like the current location, it will still be on the local bus route, connected by sidewalks, and convenient to Falmouth’s primary business district.

Question 1 on June 14 will afford voters the opportunity to finally provide the library with the space it needs at an unbeatable price. The Town Council worked diligently to ensure that this project will not raise taxes, and included in the referendum a clause stating that new property taxes cannot be used for project renovations.

Question 1 will also allow Community Programs to have a home just steps away from the new library. The opportunity to be close to a community center and collaborate on programming is exciting and full of promise.

Question 1 is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to impact the town in a positive way for generations to come. Please vote yes on Question 1.

Chantal Walker of Falmouth is president of the Falmouth Memorial Library Board of Trustees.