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Cape Elizabeth seeks new input on future of library

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Cape Elizabeth seeks new input on future of library

CAPE ELIZABETH — A committee formed after the defeat of a multi-million-dollar library bond last November will seek answers from voters later this month.

The Library Planning Committee will solicit input during a 6:30 p.m. Aug. 29 public meeting in the cafeteria at Cape Elizabeth High School. The five-member group is also planning to mail surveys to residents and hire an architect to review the town's needs by mid-September.

Molly MacAuslan, chairwoman of the committee, said the public meeting is intended to hear voters' nuanced reasons for opposing the $6 million bond proposal that would have funded a new Thomas Memorial Library. About 6,300 residents cast ballots in the November election, or about 80 percent of registered voters; they defeated the referendum 3,566 to 2,696.

"We'll be asking people what they want to see in Cape Elizabeth," MacAuslan said. "We'll be looking for community input on what the citizenry is looking for in terms of library services and what they want to do with the existing facility. We really need to hear from people."

The aging library at 6 Scott Dyer Road is comprised of five separate buildings that have been cobbled together. The oldest wing dates to 1849.

A 2009 study by a Wisconsin-based library consulting firm, Himmel & Wilson, identified more than 100 deficiencies, including water damage, structural inadequacy and antiquated electrical wiring.

"It's a hodgepodge," MacAuslan said of the library and its structural woes.

MacAuslan said the biggest drawback is the library's five-level floor plan, which splays out like a bow tie. At the center of the library is its main entrance and ground floor. From there, upper and lower levels emanate from the left and right. The compartmentalization is costly and inefficient to heat, among other things, MacAuslan said.

"It also gives an uncomfortable feel to the patrons and the staff because it's so broken up," she said.

Nonetheless, the committee is eyeing a range of options, including renovations to the existing space.

The committee was formed earlier this year by the Town Council and given the task of developing a plan that will serve the town for the next 25 years. The committee's objective includes gathering public opinion.

The committee's recommendation is due back to the council by the end of October.

Thomas Memorial Library has been on the lips of town councilors, residents and library board members for more than six years – long enough that there are few people involved now that were there from the start, MacAuslan said.

MacAuslan, who has also served for three years on the library's board of trustees, said the board is completely different now than it was then.

"We had turnover on the whole board of trustees during the first year of my term," she said, "so we had no institutional memory of the process that had been going on for the prior four or five years."

As such, the committee is seeking a new study of the issue.

By mid-September, MacAuslan said the committee will have hired an architect to determine how much square footage is appropriate to serve the town's library needs. The architect won't be drawing plans, she said. Rather, it's a broad look at the size and makeup of the community and what type of facility would meet standards set by the American Library Association and other criteria.

"It's not until we get that information that we can determine our next step," she said.

Ultimately, MacAuslan said she hopes the committee's recommendation will please all of Cape Elizabeth, not just a simple majority.

She cited Yarmouth as an example of how it can be done.

In June, Yarmouth voters overwhelmingly approved a $1.5 million bond referendum to help pay for a $2.5 million renovation project at Merrill Memorial Library. It will include a top-to-bottom renovation of the existing space, along with a $300,000 glass corridor to serve as an entrance.

The facilities in Yarmouth and Cape Elizabeth are vastly different, but the widespread approval for the project in Yarmouth is worthy of emulation, MacAuslan said.

"Whatever we end up with, I want it to be something that people like," she said. "Whatever Yarmouth did, they did it right."

Ben McCanna can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or bmccanna@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @BenMcCanna.