Majority of Falmouth council favor extra library funding

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FALMOUTH — A slim majority of town councilors say they’re willing to put a $500,000 bond on the local ballot in November to support the long-planned Falmouth Memorial Library expansion project.

Councilors Andrea Ferrante and Aaron Svedlow are against the proposal, and Hope Cahan is wavering, but on Monday the remaining four councilors agreed to move forward, arguing the public deserves a chance to decide the issue.

The council is now set to hold a vote on the bond question at its Aug. 27 meeting, which will be held at 7 p.m. in Town Hall.

The library first approached the Town Council with a request for additional funding in late July. At that time, Marsha Clark, president of the library board, said initial estimates showed the library project was $2.2 million over budget.

After value engineering and other modifications the project, Clark said the library would need $1 million more to complete construction as originally planned. Then last week she told the council a $500,000 borrowing measure would provide the extra money needed.

In 2014 voters approved borrowing $2.81 million to help fund the library project. That vote was predicated on the library being able to raise the remaining $2.81 million privately, which it took nearly three years to do.

In the meantime, Clark told the council in July, construction costs have gone up exponentially and the library also learned it would need to spend over $300,000 on a new stormwater management system, which was not anticipated in the original design.

The majority of councilors expressed sympathy for the library Monday, with many calling it an asset and a much-beloved community gathering spot.

Councilor Claudia King said the library is “a public asset and the public has been engaged and invited to participate at every step, so I would suggest we allow the same this time around. I don’t think we should short-circuit the process.”

Council Chairman Caleb Hemphill said, “I’ve been thinking long and hard about this and I think it’s fair to ask the voters again if they support additional town funding.”

And Amy Kuhn said, “I wish we didn’t have to do this with a bond, but we’re years behind neighboring communities in modernizing our library. The process has been community-driven since the beginning, so it makes sense to allow the public to weigh in.”

But Ferrante said she didn’t think the right question was being asked.

She argued that no one has talked about “what we could get for $5.6 million. I have a ton of respect for the work that’s been done and the people involved, but I think we can have a beautiful library,” for the original price tag.

Ferrante believes the correct approach is not to ask for more money to complete the initial design, which calls for the creation of an 18,000-square-foot building with a separate youth services wing, a separate reading room and new community seating areas, among other updates.

“It’s too easy to seek more money,” she said. “And I hold the integrity of what was decided the first time around really highly. I think there are lots of options that have not been explored enough.”

“My interest is in what can be done for $5.6 million and we haven’t had that conversation,” Ferrante said. “What are we doing here? Five and a half million is not chump change, have we really done our work? Are we protecting our half of the money? I believe more can be done and we owe the community that.”

Svedlow agreed.

“If the contractors say we can’t do the project for the money we have, then you get a new contractor and a new design, you don’t ask for more money.”

After more discussion, Cahan began questioning what the town really needs in terms of library services and pointed out that the library consultant’s report, on which the current design is based, is almost 10 years old.

“I don’t know if what we’re trying to make happen is what’s needed,” she said. “There are still lots of question marks and it’s our responsibility, if we’re going to put in a whole bunch of money, to get an evaluation of how it’s being used.”

Kuhn said a new needs assessment is not feasible at this point, but Svedlow said “I’m not feeling a great sense of urgency,” suggesting that the process could be slowed down and more thought put into reevaluating the overall project.

Ferrante described the current situation as “win-lose, not a win-win.”

But, in defending the bond option, Clark said the library would continue to do what it could to bring the cost overrun down and said “if the bids come in less than what we’re expecting, we would draw less from the town.”

Kate Irish Collins can be reached at 710-2336 or Follow Kate on Twitter: @KIrishCollins.

Councilor Andrea Ferrante believes the town should be asking what it can get for $5.6 million, not approving a bond measure for additional funding so the Falmouth Memorial Library can build the design shown here.