Borrowing power: Cape Elizabeth library hopes tours make case for bond
CAPE ELIZABETH — Shoddy construction, leaking windows, a boiler room that doubles as a storage closet and rooms that smell of mildew are all part of an informational walking tour of Thomas Memorial Library.
The tours, which began in late June and run through October, are part of a campaign by the library board of trustees to convince the public there are deficiencies and limitations of the current building that warrant voter support in November for a $6 million library bond.
In addition, the town will need to privately raise $1.5 million.
The library is a series of old buildings that started as a one-room school house built in 1849. Since then, it has moved three times and had five additions joined to it.
Today, the library is overflowing with books. So much so that the entrance walls are lined with volumes and the aisles in the adult section are not wheelchair accessible because the stacks are too close together.
"We've put shelves literally everywhere we could," library Director Jay Scherma said Wednesday, pointing to a shelf attached to the wall between two bookcases. "To make the aisles wide enough (to be wheelchair accessible) we would need to throw out 18 percent of the collection."
The disjointed adult and children sections both lack bathrooms on the upper levels and rooms on the lower levels smell like wet cardboard, although they have been through mildew remediations.
The building also lacks storage space for things other than books: the boiler room, sprinkler room and closet attached to the children's room are used as makeshift storage units. The door to the children's room closet scrapes against the low, 6-foot-8-inch ceiling, and the closet is packed full with books to be sold at book sales. And the boiler room is no longer in compliance with safety standards because it houses flammable material, Scherma said.
The library also has just six public-access computers, with four short on working space, Scherma said.
Despite all its inadequacies and Frankenstein-like appearance, the library still gets plenty of use.
"It's the heartbeat of the town," said resident Ellen LeMaistre, who visits the library two or three times a week. "It has a wonderful program for kids and the staff is very knowledgeable and helpful."
But some residents are worried about the financial impact of voting to approve a large project like the library.
Eastman Road resident Mary Stephen said she doesn't mind the current state of the library, but thinks it needs accessibility improvements.
"We love our library; it's a great resource for us," she said. "I just don't know what the impact on our taxes would be. I'd really have to think about it."
Town Manager Mike McGovern said if voters OK the new library, it would not be a huge tax burden because the town would be retiring other debts around the same time.
The new library design preserves the Pond Cove School and adds a new two-story addition. The design also provides an open floor plan, upgrades technology, adds meeting space, and has an option for a coffee nook. It also preserves the historic school house.
In the meantime, repairs are still needed.
In a July 17 memo to the Town Council, McGovern called for immediate safety repairs to porch railings and doors on the oldest part of the library, and for walkway repairs and spot painting on the building connecting the two library sections.
"Updating the library needs to be one of the highest priorities of the town," he said in a subsequent interview. "I don't think we want to invest in a Rube Goldberg-type contraption."
LeMaistre said she hopes the town will vote to approve the new library in November.
"If we don't support this, it's sad," she said. "It would be a crime to see it not expand."