2013-01-18 / Front Page

Cape regroups after failed library plan

By Jack Flagler
Staff Writer

CAPE ELIZABETH — Cape Elizabeth Town Councilor David Sherman walked into the York Public Library recently and was taken aback with what he saw. When Sherman began to compare what he was seeing in York to the library in his hometown, that amazement turned to frustration.

“First of all, I was blown away. Then, I got really depressed. If York, Maine can do this, we should be able to do this,” Sherman said at a Cape Elizabeth Town Council workshop on Jan. 10.

After what town council Chairman Jim Walsh called a “frustrating” citizen vote to deny a $6 million bond for a new Thomas Memorial Library in November, the council hopes to find a solution in 2013 to update its aging, and some say inadequate, library.

That process will start with councilor site visits to area libraries like York’s and the formation of a committee to decide upon the best way to move forward.

“Everyone should have the ‘aha’ moment David was talking about,” said Thomas Memorial Library Board of Trustees Chairman RuthAnne Haley. “They’re not just buildings with books on shelves.”

York’s $4.7 million library was completed in 2002 with a $1.3 million contribution from the town approved by voters, according to Library Director Robert Waldman.

“We went from a 3,000-square-foot library to a 25,000-square-foot library. It was a very exciting time; it’s a complicated thing when you get a new library. (The board) had been planning since 1970,” Waldman said.

Cape Elizabeth councilors and members of the public mostly kept the conversation focused on a plan to look forward into 2013, but at times the conversation turned to searching for answers to explain the November vote.

The vote on the library bond measure was not close, as the question was defeated by nearly 1,000 votes; 43 percent of Cape Elizabeth voters supported the decision.

Walsh and Councilor Jessica Sullivan pointed to a comprehensive facilities study the council commissioned, and was released days before the election, before the council could prioritize the $12 million of suggested improvements.

“We never got a chance to review (the facilities study) and it was out there as gospel,” Sullivan added. “We still haven’t reviewed it in council or even in workshop.”

“We were dead on arrival last fall, that’s just my opinion,” Walsh added.

Councilors also seemed to believe the signs put up in town, urging voters to vote no and “renovate,” swayed some voters, although they questioned the intentions of the unidentified group behind the signs.

“In my heart of hearts, I think those ‘Let’s Renovate’ signs were completely disingenuous,” Sherman said.

Although Sherman believes the individuals who erected the signs likely wouldn’t support a moderately less expensive renovation project, he said the council should at least discuss and pursue renovation talks, even if it is, as he said, “throwing good money after bad.”

Sullivan also questioned the practices of the group that put up the signs.

“They were very clever in that they created the assumption there is a renovation plan. There is no renovation plan, the study committee threw that out because they decided it was a waste of taxpayer dollars,” she said.

However, there seemed to be more momentum for renovation among the citizens present at the workshop than there was from the council.

“A part of me wonders if you have an obligation to put a $2 million vote out to rehab (the library),” said Broad Cove Road resident Joel Bassett. “If you read the signs that prevailed, you’re going to be dinged if you don’t consider that route.”

Beckys Cove Lane resident Tom Dunham preferred the town retire some of its debt rather than immediately invest in a $6 million project to “demonstrate prudence to the community.”

“My personal feeling is, you could do this for around $3 million,” he added. “Politically, it was misguided to ask citizens for $6 million in this economy.”

Dunham suggested an addition to the back of Pond Cove Elementary School, which adjoins the library, as a solution for the problems with the state of the current building.

Not all residents supported lower cost fixes and renovations. Nancy Marshall, who served since 2007 on the Thomas Memorial Library Study Committee, said a “Band Aid” fix of $1.5 to $2 million would not address the serious issues with the building.

Before moving to Cape Elizabeth, Marshall worked as a library director for universities in Wisconsin and Virginia. She said the proposal voters rejected was not overly decadent, but addressed the current need.

“This was not the Taj Mahal, I looked at it more like the Holiday Inn Express,” Marshall said.

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