Aging Yarmouth library seeks $1M bond for renovations
YARMOUTH — The pungent odor of burning electric wiring is never a welcome sensation in a building.
And that's especially true if the building lacks a sprinkler system, adequate fire escapes and is lined wall-to-wall with books.
But it was the case about a year ago at Merrill Memorial Library on Main Street, according to Director Heidi Grimm, who, along with the library's Board of Trustees, is now advocating for a $1 million borrowing measure on the June 2013 ballot to make preventative renovations and other updates to the building.
Although firefighters never found the source of the odor last year, they recommended the building, which still contains some original 1905 wiring, be brought up to code, Grimm said.
The majority of the proposed renovations would be behind the walls: a new sprinkler system and other less "glamorous" items, Grimm said, with the exception of a new, extended covered entrance.
In 1988, the library was expanded, joining the original Merrill building in the front of the property to the new one in the back. This connection, which moved the entrance and the circulation desk to the new building, positioned the rooftops in a way that tends to produce to falling ice and snow when it builds up in the winter, she said.
The proposed covered entrance would extend from the parking lot to the doorway, blocking snow and ice from falling on unsuspecting library patrons.
In addition to the fire and ice hazards, the bond would also help pay for better ADA access and new bathrooms, which are currently limited to the first floor.
One of the most visible changes inside the library would be a glass-wall fire barrier built floor to ceiling in the reading room to create safe fire exits from the third floor. The wall would separate two stairwells, creating at least one safe exit in the event of a fire.
Trustee Gro Flatebo said she hopes voters will recognize the bond is for basic renovations, not for elaborate or superfluous work.
"I think it's really clear the building needs work," she said. "I think it's clear we're not giving them a Cadillac project. What we need to fix are really some clear-cut code and safety issues."
Despite the code issues, voters will have to weigh the importance of the library in the wake of two other significant bonds on the ballot this November: a $2.88 million bond for remodeling of the public works garage and a $1.5 million bond for a new turf field at Yarmouth High School.
Frequent library patron John Walling said although he is a proponent of the library, he's not sure how he would vote next year and questioned if this is the right time to propose spending more money.
"We're building houses on rotten foundation," he said. "It's just hard to justify anything that doesn't have to be done right now. The library will still be here without it."
Although he is concerned about his taxes increasing if all the bonds pass, Walling said among deserving public services, "the library goes right up to the top."
"I just can't imagine not having a library in town," he said.
Grimm, acknowledging the timing of the bond proposal may not be ideal, said some of the renovations could have been done previously, but it was more efficient to do them in one project.
"We're worried voters might be a little gun shy," she said. "We've deliberately sat on other upgrades to do it all at once."
In addition to the bond, another $1 million will have to be raised privately for other renovations and refurbishing after the code work is done, Grimm said.
Although library administrators have known about the code issues for several years, they've been waiting for their third-floor tenant, the Yarmouth Historical Society, to find a new home before starting renovations.
The Historical Society is now preparing to move to the old Water District building on East Elm Street, and hopes to be in by late November or early December, with a soft opening in January 2013, Executive Director Michael Chaney said.
Grimm said the library hopes to use the third-floor space for more programming and educational events like poetry readings, art exhibits and author appearances.
These types of activities are where the library has seen major growth over the last decade, Grimm said, along with new technology services, exam proctoring and passport issuing as some of the key services they provide.
"In Yarmouth, there's no rec center, no senior center, no teen center; really there's no place to go," Grimm said. "We are doing all of that. It's really the social hub."
The first public meeting to discuss the renovations and the proposed bond is Thursday, Oct. 11, from 7-8:30 p.m. at the library, 215 Main St. The Portland-based architect, Nancy Barba, of Barba + Wheelock Architecture Preservation Design, will go over the proposed renovations and answer questions.
Library administrators, town officials and the architect are unsure of what would happen if the code violations are not corrected.
"My guess is that the use would probably continue," Barba said, although not all of the violations could be "grandfathered" in. "Some areas would need to be addressed, regardless."
Library trustees will be addressing the Town Council about the bond in a workshop on Thursday night and in a formal public hearing Nov. 15.
"We've waited a long time for this," Grimm said. "If we continue to put this off, it's not good for anyone."