Languishing Harpswell Neck Library still hopes to turn new page

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HARPSWELL — In a corner of Scout Hall on Harpswell Neck Road sits a collection of books. There are boxes and carts of them, and a stuffed trailer out back, but the bulk are stored in four wooden bookcases.

A sign made of poster board and marker indicates their purpose: “Temporary Home of the Harpswell Neck Library.”

There was a book sale in December, and the makeshift space has not really been operational for more than two months.

For Donna Frisoli, a member of the Harpswell Neck Library Association, downsizing the donated collection has been emotional.

“We have a little corner set off, and we had to liquidate a lot of books, which was very hard for me,” she said. “But it was something that had to be done and I’m glad the board moved forward with it.”

The library’s nomadic existence has been a topic of discussion since 2013, when Harpswell Coastal Academy moved into the former West Harpswell School building. Upon its establishment in 2012, Harpswell Neck, formerly Ash Point Library, had repurposed the school’s former book space and opened it to the public.

The charter school and library both used the building for a time, but Frisoli said operating the two simultaneously became unfeasible.

After hearing Harpswell Neck was in need of a new venue, Donnette Goodenow, a member of the library board who also works with the Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts, offered Scout Hall as a temporary home.

The library has been in a state of limbo ever since, operating on a seasonal schedule and sharing space with the Scouts.

In March 2015, voters approved more than $4,500 for the organization. But that November, the Board of Selectmen voted not to release the money after learning Harpswell Neck was not open to the public.

Later that year, the library board discovered the Mitchell Field administration building – where it had been hoping to move – had several costly code violations.

Most recently, Frisoli highlighted the organization’s situation at the Board of Selectmen’s Jan. 25 meeting.

She had seen a broadcast of the Mitchell Field water tower workshop earlier in the week, where resident George Simonson asked if any group could bring a proposal before the town to lease the tower.

“It’s always been the nature that I’ve understood of the town, if there’s an empty lot or something not being used, bring an idea to the town,” Chairman Rick Daniel said.

Frisoli said upon hearing the exchange, she felt the need to remind selectmen that the library is still seeking a home.

“We’re still interested in using the admin building …,” she said. “Dring this period that they’re tearing the pier down, it seems like the time we could start fundraising for replacing doors and windows or whatever else needed to be replaced in the building.”

She also said raising funds to repair the Mitchell Field building would likely take years, but the board would like to “be considered” and begin raising money.

Selectman David Chipman said he would like to broach the topic again.

“It’s no secret I’m involved with the Harpswell Neck Library and I would like to have that discussion at some point, using the admin building or doing something with it,” Chipman said. “Maybe we could put it on our agenda at some point.”

On Monday, Frisoli said her organization has about $1,000, and that her group isn’t only interested in using the building at Mitchell Field, but is also open to other options.

She added the library association is now a 501 c3 nonprofit, which is a designation it did not have when it last brought a proposal before selectmen.

Goodenow and Frisoli said the library board needs to meet again and come up with a new plan of action.

While no date is set, Goodenow also said there will be another book sale in the spring and the library will open again when the weather gets warmer, which will save on heating costs. Its focus will likely be on summer reading.

In the meantime, Goodenow said Scout Hall is also in need of “major repairs.”

She said after she consults contractors, the Scouts will need to raise funds for repairs to the building.

In addition to needing more space, Frisoli added she thinks offering a local Wi-Fi hotspot to Harpswell residents is “really important for the community,” which is not possible in the current space. When the library moved to Scout Hall, it was not able to hook up its computers.

Ultimately, both board members said their goal has never been to grow to the point of competing with larger nearby libraries, but rather to bring the convenience of a public library to Harpswell.

“I don’t think that we have a desire to have a huge library,” Frisoli said. “I think we all agree all we want is a little village library.”

Elizabeth Clemente can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or eclemente@theforecaster.net. Follow Elizabeth on Twitter @epclemente.

Donna Frisoli in front of bookshelves at Scout Hall, which has served as the temporary home of the Harpswell Neck Library since 2015.

A sign in front of books stored at Scout Hall indicates its use by the Harpswell Neck Library Association.

A former Navy administration building at Mitchell Field, which the Harpswell Neck Library Association originally wanted to rent in 2015. An evaluation found the building had several costly code violations.

Scout Hall on Harpswell Neck Road, where the Harpswell Neck Library operates on a seasonal basis.

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