2012-06-08 / Front Page

Public mixed on Cape library

By Jack Flagler Staff Writer

Chris and Nicole McCarthy moved to Cape Elizabeth less than 10 months ago from the suburbs of Houston, Texas. On May 31, they brought their daughters, Madison, 8, and Hope, 11, to Cape Elizabeth Town Hall as part of the girls’ home-schooled education. Chris and Nicole wanted the girls to experience what a small town political meeting was like. But fittingly, Madison and Hope, who both said they use the library frequently when they run out of books, said they spent the majority of their time at the meeting reading.

The McCarthys were four of about 70 people who filled town council chambers at the public engagement meeting to speak their minds and listen to new building ideas for a $6 million project to expand and renovate Thomas Memorial Library.

Library Director Jay Scherma gave a brief opening presentation to fill in the public on the background of the project, which has been in the works in some form since 2007, but is still in the infancy stage of development.

“There seems to be some misconception in the public that the project is much further along than it is,” Scherma said. “What you’re seeing tonight is conceptual only.”

Town Councilor Sara Lennon said that she thought the public had the impression that the project was 80 percent done, while in reality, it’s more like 20 percent finished.

The issue will be put in front of Cape Elizabeth voters in a November referendum, and the exact language of that referndum is on the agenda to be voted on by the town council on June 11.

Lennon and Scherma were joined on a panel by Councilor Jessica Sullivan, library trustee RuthAnne Haley and Town Manager Michael McGovern, who all fielded questions and comments from the public.

The conceptual idea for the new building would mean expanding the meeting space at the library building to accommodate about 155 people in a conference room and about 20 more in a computer lab, in a building that measures roughly 22,000 square feet.

According to the library building project website, the new design will add a two-story addition to the existing Pond Cove School, which is attached to the current building. The new design will allow more meeting space, enable library staff to upgrade their technology and possibly make a coffee nook in the building.

Many members of the Cape Elizabeth community voiced support for the proposed plan and encouraged their neighbors to become engaged.

“I have been to libraries in Falmouth, Freeport and other communities that are wonderful. I think our library building in comparison to theirs is an embarrassment,” said Anne Swift-Kayatta, a member of the Cape Elizabeth City Council through 2011.

“I think public libraries are the key to educated and free citizenry,” Swift-Kenyatta continued. “I know that sounds lofty and sort of corny, but I think it’s really important. They’re a critical resource and I urge (the) council and Cape Elizabeth citizens to think about their needs and, more importantly, the needs of their children in the future.”

Some residents at the meeting expressed reservations about the cost of the project.

“I’m just wondering how this wonderful place, which I think would be great – how are we going to afford that,” said Cape Elizabeth resident Bob Trippler. “I would love to have a 10-bedroom house on the shore, but I can’t afford that.”

“I feel blessed to live in the town of Cape Elizabeth with some wonderful people,” added resident Nancy Woodward. “I’m hopeful when the time comes, to be hauled out feet first from my house, and I would hate to be driven out by taxes. The bottom line is, we have to look at our wants and our needs.”

Councilors took budgetary concerns into account in a workshop on June 4, when they informally came to a consensus on the $6 million figure for the portion of the project to be funded by the public, with the remaining cost, about $1.5 to $1.75 million, to come through private donations.

Councilor Jessica Sullivan said she empathizes with Cape Elizabeth residents who are worried about the cost of the project, and she said those involved with the project will do everything in their power to keep costs down.

“We have people in Cape who have modest or moderate-to-low incomes. It’s one of those things that is a constant struggle. You have to watch the budget and taxes, but you also have facilities that are falling apart,” Sullivan said.

“We’re working very hard to try to find a way to serve the needs of a community with a library but keep the cost as low as we can.”

“Everyone’s got a set budget,” McGovern added. “If you’re buying a house or car, people have a budget. There are different ways of getting there.”

One option McGovern discussed is moving the Cape Elizabeth Historical Society into the police station, but since the project is still in early stages of development, he said other options can still be explored.

If the November referendum fails, McGovern said there “really is no plan B,” but the town would reassess its options.

Until the November vote, library staff will hold tours to allow members of the public to learn about the deficiencies of the current building.Afull schedule of these tours, as well as more information about the project, can be found on the Thomas Memorial Library website at www.thomasmemoriallibrary.org.

At one point during the meeting, Madison McCarthy took a break from reading her book, “Anne’s House of Dreams,” to speak in front of the public. She said she noticed the library focused on adult and preschool programs, and she hoped it could offer more for elementary-school aged children and teens.

That, at least, everyone seemed to agree on, and Madison received a large round of applause.

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