Yarmouth library trustees eye needs, possible $1M bond

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YARMOUTH — The space – and money – aren’t yet available, but Merrill Memorial Library trustees have a $1.4 million vision in mind for the future of the 107-year-old building.

That is a preliminary estimate for a top-down project presented in a Town Council workshop last month by Gro Flatebo, a vice president of the library board of trustees.

“I look at it is as a puzzle,” Flatebo said about plans that begin with renovations of the third floor, now the home of the Yarmouth Historical Society.

The first piece of the puzzle requires the historical society to move to its East Elm Street museum, where ground was broken last month. Most of the society’s collection of artifacts and documents may be moved by the end of November.

Some ensuing pieces are smaller, technological changes Flatebo described as simple.

“By technological changes, we mean more outlets,” she said.

More outlets will allow patrons more space to plug in and log on to their computers. Getting rid of knob-and-tube wiring dating to President Theodore Roosevelt’s second term will allow more and better power to the outlets, Flatebo said.

Flatebo and Library Director Heidi Grimm said the plans address some needs that have been deferred over the last few years as library staff and trustees waited to see how the historical society plans would play out.

The library plans, split into three phases, are more complicated than adding outlets, but are designed to meet some very elemental needs without significantly changing the nature of the sturdy brick building Flatebo called “a town treasure.”

It is a treasure that is costly to heat in the winter and barely cooled in warmer months by six antiquated air conditioners.

“This place is an oven in the summertime,” Grimm said.

Once space is available on the third floor, an estimated $350,000 project to add bathrooms, a sprinkler system and insulation, while creating new office and public gathering space, can start.

Merrill Memorial Library has two first-floor bathrooms with a total of three stalls. Neither bathroom fully complies with the American With Disabilities Act.

By adding third-floor bathrooms, the former historical society museum can be used for programs like author visits and book clubs, Grimm said.

There is elevator access to the third floor, and library staff would no longer have to rearrange the first floor to accommodate visitors.

“We run around and drag the furniture back to make it into a library again,” Grimm said.

Once third-floor work is complete, a second phase of work on the first and second floors estimated to cost $641,000 will begin. First-floor bathrooms will be expanded, new windows installed and a glass wall will be built on the second floor.

A third, $136,000 phase to improve third-floor storage space could be four years from completion because the historical society will continue to store some of its items in a third floor attic until at least 2016. Plans call for building a small kitchen area and finishing work on sprinklers in this phase.

A fourth stage not needed to conform to the schedule calls for building a portico over the entrance to better protect the library and its visitors from the elements.

“I want to stress that the $1.4 million is for a bare-bones project,” Flatebo said.

Councilors took no action at the workshop last month, except to view the presentation, where Flatebo raised the possibility of a $1 million dollar bond question on the June 2013 ballot.

A bond of that amount could help fund a larger project to address more than some very basic needs, she said.

Flatebo and Grimm said later the library staff and trustees continue to examine the details and possible costs for library work. The library endowment fund could provide up to $200,000 in funding, including $30,000 already spent for studies.

The bond amount is a preliminary estimate, but one Council Chairman Steve Woods cautioned could not be viewed as a stand-alone item in terms of municipal needs.

Bonds needed to replace the artificial turf field at Yarmouth High School and renovate or expand the North Street Public Works facility have also been discussed by councilors, although bond amounts and ballot dates are undetermined.

“The reality is all these projects are critically important for the town,” Woods said as he encouraged the trustees to continue to develop plans and a firmer cost estimate for the work.

The financial realities of town needs should not be taken as a lack of support for library improvements, Councilor Leslie Hyde said.

“The library is equally one of them,” she said.

David Harry can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidHarry8.

Sidebar Elements

Merrill Memorial Library Director Heidi Grimm said a renovation plan will make use of the original library staircase while fixing leaky ceilings and updating wiring, heating, ventilation and bathrooms at the 107-year-old Yarmouth building.

Merrill Memorial Library still uses knob-and-tube wiring and lacks a sprinkler system. A three-phase renovation plan addresses those and other needs with an estimated cost of $1.4 million.

Some basic maintenance has been deferred at Merrill Memorial Library. Only one of the switches on this fixture still works.

Staff and trustees also plan to build a portico over the main entrance to Merrill Memorial Library to provide more space for patrons and better protection from the elements.

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.