HARPSWELL — It’s been a rough year for the Harpswell Neck Library Association.
The 3-year-old library moved out of its Ash Point home at the end of the summer due to space-sharing issues with Harpswell Coastal Academy.
Then, in November, the Harpswell Board of Selectmen voted to withhold $4,500 in voter-approved funds because the library was not open to the public and does not have a home.
And on Dec. 10, representatives from the library association found out that the Mitchell Field building they’d been hoping to move into had a slew of code violations.
Library supporters in a Nov. 30 letter requested permission from the town to lease space at the gatehouse building at Mitchell Field.
The association’s long-term plan, according to board member Tom Allen, is to move in to the larger administrative building on the Mitchell Field waterfront, possibly in tandem with the coastal academy. But to open to the public sooner, he said, they floated the idea of using the smaller gatehouse near Route 123.
In a workshop Dec. 10, staff from the town’s code enforcement office walked library representatives Hope Hilton and John Halpin through the code violations they’d found at the old Navy building.
Violations included water damage, exposed wires and disconnected plumbing.
Code Enforcement Officer Fred Cantu found one mysterious electrical box that was simply labeled “this is unsafe.”
“(There’s) nothing that’s a real deal-breaker,” he told the attendees, “but there’s definitely some dollars attached to it.”
After the presentation, selectmen asked the two library representatives how their organization planned to move forward.
Hilton waited a beat and responded, “Well, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you enjoy the play?”
Hilton asked if there may be some ways to cut costs in restoring the structure, such as using a portable bathroom instead of restoring the plumbing, and getting a waiver for installing insulation, saying the library could open seasonally.
“The insulation of it … is probably the deal-breaker because of the cost,” Halpin said.
Code Enforcement Officer Bill Wells agreed to help the library association craft a letter to the state codes office asking about the code questions.
He also suggested the association look into purchasing a used mobile unit.
Selectmen suggested that library representatives re-examine space-sharing options nearer to the “center” of town, such as Scout Hall, the Grange and Centennial Hall.
Town Administrator Kristi Eiane said $4,500 in withheld funds were slated for “operational” purposes, and could not be released because the library was not yet operational.
But, she added, those funds would carry over into the 2016 budget.
The town gave more than $15,000 to Cundy’s Harbor Library in 2015 and $13,000 to Orr’s Island.
After the workshop, Hilton stressed the need for a community library on Harpswell Neck.
“It doesn’t replace Curtis Memorial Library (in Brunswick),” she said. “It’s analogous to a variety of small elementary schools serving a local community.”
She said a facility on the neck could offer Internet to residents that may not have it, and facilitate inter-library loans so people could travel less to get their books.
Citing the fact that Harpswell has the longest coastline of any town in Maine, Hilton said that the town’s island geography caused communities to develop as nearly “separate entities.”
For that reason, a library on Harpswell Neck, she argued, “would not at all be in competition with the other libraries.”
“People don’t want to drive 30 to 40 minutes to and from the library … because the spread of the geography,” Halpin said.
The gatehouse at Mitchell Field, off Route 123 in Harpswell, has code violations that would be expensive to remedy before the building could be used by the Harpswell Neck Library Association.