Size, timing at center of Scarborough library expansion vote

A rendering of the proposed Scarborough Public Library. Playback / Simon Architects

Supporters of the $13.7 million Scarborough Public Library project say it needs to be tripled in size and now is the “perfect” time to do so, while opponents say the expansion is too big as proposed at a time when more important projects are on the horizon.

Scarborough voters will decide on November 8 whether to allow the city to borrow up to nearly $13 million for expansion. The remaining costs are expected to be covered through fundraising, including the cost of a temporary relocation of library operations not included in the $13.7 million price tag. Including the cost of the move, the total cost of the project is approximately $16 million.

The library’s board of trustees believes its time is now: A $6.75 million expansion project in 2006 was defeated by a vote of 1,488 to 1,235. They hope the project will be approved before a consolidated school project estimated to cost over $134 million goes to voters.

Scarborough Public Library executive director Nancy Crowell and board of trustees president Bill Donovan believe now is the right time to expand. Drew Johnson / The Forecaster

“In terms of the city’s debt, it’s a perfect time to fund the library project bond,” library director Nancy Crowell said in an interview with The Forecaster. “I don’t want to be dismissive; It’s a lot of money, but it’s a very small project compared to some other projects that are being considered, especially the school.”

If the bond is committed and paid over a 30-year period at 4% interest, the roughly $13 million bond would require the owner of a home valued at $400,000 to live over the life of the bond will have to pay an additional $1,000 in taxes, an average of $35 a year for 30 years, according to Town Manager Tom Hall.

Some residents, including members of the Scarborough Maine Advocates for Reasonable Taxes, believe the library needs expansion but the school project must take precedence.

“It sounds like it’s not that much money when you look at the tax impact on an average taxpayer,” Susan Hamill, a SMARTaxes member, said in an interview with The Forecaster. “However, it will be a little different if they face a big tax hike because of the school.”

The 22,000-square-foot, two-story expansion would add an atrium, dedicated rooms for younger children and youth, and staff areas. It would also add meeting rooms, including one that comfortably seats 150 people. That’s space the library needs, said Bill Donovan, chair of the library’s board of trustees.

“We have so many events that we need space to accommodate 100 to 150 people and we don’t have it,” he said. “We need space for learning, be it for the school population after school for homework, a rest room for business people or staff room. We have people sharing small cabin-style spaces and that is totally inadequate for the needs of this community.”

Crowell said the library had to close earlier when large events were being held “because we can’t make it work.”

“We can’t work with full service and the program running,” she said.

Hamill said expanding the library from 13,000 square feet to 35,000 square feet was “overkill.”

“I’ve been on the tour, I’ve seen the conditions,” Hamill said, noting the insufficient space for staff and supplies, such as the library’s digital database, which is kept in a closet. “I definitely agree they need an expansion, but I think 35,000 square feet is really too much.”

Crowell and Donovan said the library is one of Maine’s smallest per capita, at just over half a foot per resident. The expansion would bring it to just over 1½ feet per person, which is larger per capita than libraries in Falmouth, Portland, and Lewiston, but smaller than those in Cape Elizabeth, Bangor, and Yarmouth.

Hamill cited a community survey conducted by the city last year in which 55% of the 862 respondents said they use the library a few times a year or never.

More people could use the library if the expansion allowed for more programming, Crowell and Donovan said. However, the vast majority of respondents, 87%, indicated that they were satisfied with the library’s services.

The poll also concluded that approximately 49% of respondents either support or strongly support a library expansion project and 26% do not support it, while the remaining 26% are neutral.

If the project is defeated in the election, Crowell said, the need for expansion will only increase because Scarborough is one of the state’s fastest-growing communities.

“I expect we’re going to have issues with program delivery, so there will be an impact,” she said. “The things we cannot do are becoming more and more obvious and that will be unfortunate for our community. We’re really just trying to improve and it’s definitely going to be a setback.”

Voting will take place on November 8th from 7am to 8pm at Scarborough High School

For more information on the expansion project, see expansion.scarboroughlibrary.org. To learn more about the SMARTaxes Group and their attitude, visit smartaxes.weebly.com.

The current library building on the left and shaded pink in this design will become the adult section. A new atrium, yellow, leads to the new youth area, light green and dark green, with staff rooms in purple. Contributed / Simon Architects

The second floor of the Library Annex will house staff offices in purple, a large meeting and activity room in light blue, and smaller meeting rooms. Contributed / Simon Architects

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