YARMOUTH — On June 25, voters will decide whether to approve a $1.5 million bond for a major renovation project at Merrill Memorial Library. Many residents believe the bond will pass by a wide margin.
The proposed project, which will cost an estimated $2.5 million, combines some new construction with top-to-bottom renovations of the existing space. If the bond is approved, work could begin as soon as October and be completed within 18 months. During that time, the library will remain open, said Board of Trustees President Gro Flatebo.
The proposal calls for a new entryway, presentation room, expanded restrooms and private tutoring rooms, plus rewiring, improved insulation, and a fire suppression system.
Flatebo contends that the bond will not raise taxes because some other town debts will be paid before payments are due for the library project. Also, planners estimate the renovations will create significant energy savings. For instance, the library could save $15,000 in fuel oil consumption annually.
Three factors spurred the proposed project.
First, the library’s main entryway is unsafe, Flatebo said. The entrance sits directly below the convergence of two roofs – one from the original 1904 building and another from its 1988 addition – which causes snow and ice to plummet onto the sidewalk. The entryway also needs to be regraded to shed water and ice that runs toward the door from the parking lot.
The entrance already needed $100,000 in repairs and maintenance, so the library board decided to spring for a $300,000 overhaul of the area, which includes the addition of an enclosed, heated, glass-walled corridor that will extend from the parking lot to the entrance.
“If we have to fix it, let’s fix it right,” Flatebo said.
Second, a number of improvements are planned to make use of the library’s top floor, which is now vacant since the relocation of the previous occupant, the Yarmouth Historical Society.
But to receive permits for those improvements, however, the century-old building must undergo a series of upgrades to comply with modern codes for safety and wheelchair accessibility. That means the library needs new wiring, a sprinkler system, larger bathrooms and more.
While those upgrades might help usher the aging building into the 21st century, will the library remain relevant in the age of Kindles and iPads?
Library Director Heidi Grimm believes it will, and she anticipates widespread voter support on June 25. More than 6,500 Yarmouth residents are card-carrying members. Book checkouts at the library have remained relatively steady over the past five years – more than 132,000 checkouts every year – but Grimm believes the number of visits is increasing.
“There’s no teen center, senior center or community center in this town at all, so we’re everything to everyone,” Grimm said.
Town Manager Nat Tupper also predicts strong support at the polls, despite an uncertain economy.
“If the bond were for anything other than the library, it might be a problem, but the people here like their library,” he said.
Restaurant worker Jenny Whitter thinks most Yarmouth voters will vote to pass the bond, but she is undecided. The price tag seems excessive, she said.
“I’d just like to see a breakdown of why it’s going to cost $2.5 million.”
The proposal requires the library’s Board of Trustees to raise and additional $1 million through a mix of grants and private donations. So far, the board has raised about $80,000 in grants, but fundraising efforts won’t begin in earnest until the bond passes, Grimm said.
In the meantime, Grimm encourages residents to visit the library to see the proposed changes, or visit the library’s website at yarmouthlibrary.org/expansion-project/.
In particular, Grimm would like residents to see the third floor – a space that would languish unused without code upgrades to the whole library.
“Take a look at it,” she said. “It’s beautiful.”