Long-sought Peaks Island library expansion coming to fruition in Portland

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PORTLAND — It is an enduring piece of an island community, the people who value it, and the city that found a way to support it.

“This is the island’s living room,” Portland Public Library Executive Director Sarah Campbell said April 29 about the Peaks Island branch and its adjacent recreation center.

The “living room” is going to get spiffed up and enlarged in a $650,000 renovation and expansion funded with $400,000 raised privately and $250,000 from the city’s fiscal year 2017 capital improvements plan.

Of the privately raised money, half is the result of the island-based New Vision Campaign and comes from island households. The remaining $200,000 comes from Kevin Carter, in honor of his parents, Raymond and Cynthia Carter.

The private donations were approved by city councilors April 25, minutes after they passed the CIP budget that contains the city financial commitment to the project.

Once completed, the building will be renamed the The Kennedy & Carter Family Community Center. Cynthia Kennedy Carter was instrumental in setting up senior programs at the rec center. Raymond Carter, who has worked in the city Recreation Division for 30 years, worked with his wife to set up the senior programs and then ran the program for 30 years after her death.

Work could begin in late fall, although Campbell said Planning Board approval is still needed.

Plans call for enclosing the area now used as a library entrance on Sterling Street, building a new entrance, adding storage space, a new kitchen, and improving restrooms. The Douglas E. MacVane Community Room will also be spruced up and storage areas will be improved.

Hailed by City Manager Jon Jennings as an example of public-private partnerships for the benefit of the community, the combined funding comes a year after a request for $500,000 in the current CIP budget was denied.

“From beginning, the idea was to raise $150,000 in private funding. When (city) funding was put off for a year, we saw that as an opportunity,” island resident Carol Eisenberg said April 29.

Eisenberg, a former president of the Friends of the Peaks Island Library, was one of 23 members who led the successful campaign that actually raised $200,000.

Phyllis MacIsaac, a New Vision Campaign volunteer, said the group reached out to all Peaks Island residents, seasonal and year round, and found support came readily.

“We wanted a very diverse group to support this,” she said. “It captured the needs and wants of the island, but was still in scale.”

Plans to expand and improve the building, constructed in 1979, have been discussed for about 15 years. The estimated cost was in mind when the CIP funding was requested last year.

“We had real numbers to work with and what we could accomplish,” Campbell said.

Last year, the new city emergency response system got a $7 million allocation, squeezing out several other projects. This year, the $500,000 could still have been hard to come by since the new CIP budget debt service was designed not to increase property taxes.

Although the private campaign surpassed its goal, more private funding was desired. Enter Sally DeLuca, the city director of Parks, Recreation & Facilities, who late last summer began looking for more financial help for the project.

“Sally is the angel behind the angel,” Eisenberg said.

DeLuca’s search took her to Kevin Carter and his brother, Greg Carter.

“It just seemed like a great opportunity to honor their parents,” DeLuca said Monday.

So she asked for $200,000. And got it.

“I still get chills thinking about it,” DeLuca said. “It was one of the most generous gifts you could give.”

The demonstrated commitment from islanders made it easier to ask, DeLuca said.

“The generosity of a small amount of people who live on that island, to me it showed how important the building is to the community,” she said. “That really helped propel me, too.”

David Harry can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or dharry@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidHarry8.

The current entrance to the Peaks Island Library, seen April 30, will become a new reading area as part of expansion and renovation plans. (Dan D’Ippolito / For The Forecaster)

The Peaks Island branch of the Portland Public Library, seen April 30, and its adjacent community center, will be expanded and renovated in a $650,000 project that could begin late this fall. (Dan D’Ippolito / For The Forecaster)

Priscilla Webster, Peaks Island Library branch manager, shelves books April 30. A library expansion project funded by the city and private donations is expected to begin in late fall. (Dan D’Ippolito / For The Forecaster)

Peaks Island resident Carol Eisenberg has been part of library expansion efforts on the island for about 15 years. A $650,000 project is expected to move forward in late fall. (Dan D’Ippolito / For The Forecaster)

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Portland City Hall reporter for The Forecaster. Baltimore native, lived in Maine since 1989. A journalist since 2005, covering much of Cumberland and York counties. I joined The Forecaster in 2012.