2016-02-12 / Front Page

Newly renovated, Cape library reopens

By Wm. Duke Harrington
Staff Writer


Emmy Raffaele, age 3, serves up a pretend meal to Rachel Davis, assistant director of the Thomas Memorial Library in Cape Elizabeth, which reopened this week after a yearlong $4 million renovation, with new spaces including a play area in the children’s library, which Davis oversees. (Duke Harrington photo) Emmy Raffaele, age 3, serves up a pretend meal to Rachel Davis, assistant director of the Thomas Memorial Library in Cape Elizabeth, which reopened this week after a yearlong $4 million renovation, with new spaces including a play area in the children’s library, which Davis oversees. (Duke Harrington photo) CAPE ELIZABETH — In the old library building that bore his name, which was really an amalgamation of former school buildings, including the one-roomer he donated as Cape Elizabeth’s first library in 1919, William Widgery Thomas Jr. was kind of tucked out of the way.

A larger-than-life bust of the lawyer, state legislator and U.S. ambassador was propped up on a high shelf, children’s librarian Rachel Davis said, where it was visible only to patrons as they left the building, and only if they happened to look up.

But in the new version of Cape’s Thomas Memorial Library, which opened Monday following a yearlong, $4 million renovation project, Thomas is on proud display, front and center in the foyer at the main entrance.


Cape Elizabeth’s new library director, Kyle Neugebauer, stands at the entry to Thomas Memorial Library, reopened this week after a yearlong, $4 million renovation project, posting alongside a bust of the building’s namesake, William Widgery Thomas Jr., a lawyer, state legislator, and U.S. ambassador, who bought and donated to the town its first library, in 1919 (Duke Harrington photo) Cape Elizabeth’s new library director, Kyle Neugebauer, stands at the entry to Thomas Memorial Library, reopened this week after a yearlong, $4 million renovation project, posting alongside a bust of the building’s namesake, William Widgery Thomas Jr., a lawyer, state legislator, and U.S. ambassador, who bought and donated to the town its first library, in 1919 (Duke Harrington photo) Efforts to build a new library in Cape Elizabeth date to 2007, when a “needs assessment” prepared by a Wisconsin based library consultant listed 102 building deficiencies in Thomas Memorial Library. As it stood at the time, the library was crafted using an addition built in 1986 that joined the old Spurwink schoolhouse donated by Thomas to the nearby Pond Cove Elementary School. The Spurwink building was built in 1849, while Pond Cove School dated to 1912.

The library serves 1,600 patrons on average per week, ranking it No. 10 among all Maine libraries for traffic in the state’s inter-library loan service. And it also serves more than 8,000 residents per year through special programming events for both adults and children. So, the town was getting a lot of use out of its library building, which only added to a sense that the building itself was all used up. Antiquated heating and ventilation systems created moisture problems, employees feared adding to the children’s collection in the Spurwink school, for fear the books would go crashing though the floor, the community room was a basement space with little more than 7 feet of headroom, and, because most of the floor space was made up of adjoining hallways, the aisles between bookshelves were too narrow for anyone in a wheelchair.

Despite its deficiencies, a $6 million plan to rebuild the library was rejected by voters in 2012. Instead, a more modest $4 million bond won a public nod two years later.

The new library, which cuts off the former Spurwink school for a use to be determined later this spring, continues to incorporate the Pond Cove building. It houses the young adult and video sections on the main floor, as well as an all-new media and gaming center, while the basement has been retooled with roomy conference spaces.

With the addition, which houses the main library collection for adults upstairs, and the children’s library, as well as a new media center replete with video editing equipment available for public use, on the lower level, Thomas 2.0 is only about 2,500 square feet larger than the old library. However, a better design allows staff to make much better use of the floor plan.

“It’s really not all that much bigger, but it has a much more open feel, thanks to much better space utilization, with more useable space, including reading areas that were not available in the old building,” said library director Kyle Neugebauer.

A new face to go along with the new library, Neugebauer started in his position barely a month before the grand-opening, following the retirement of longtime library director Jay Scherma, who shepherded the project from conception to completion.

A Kansas City native, Neugebauer ended up in Maine because the Westbrook library was the first of many to which he replied, simply to be “someplace different,” which responded to his resume. He arrives in Cape after two years in as the adult services director in Westbook, and said he could not be happier.

“It’s really exciting,” he said. “Jay, the previous director, worked so hard to lay the foundation for this and now the staff and I, and the library board, we’re looking at a wonderful facility, a real blank slate, that has real potential to provide town residents with all of the programs and services they deserve. I couldn’t be happier and hope to be here for a long time to come.”

Neugebauer said he hopes to make the new library a center for lifelong learning, though many programs and services as well as the knowledge to be found in its collection.

Meanwhile, Davis, now on her 23rd year with the library, said she’s “thrilled” with the new opportunities she has to start residents out on their learning adventures, with programs aimed at all ages, including those too young to read.

“We have all sorts of programs planned, for children from birth to (age) 5,” she said. “My favorite thing is the new window seat area, where we’ll be doing a lot of our story time events, as well as our play area, which we created though a grant from Family Place Libraries.

“The idea is to make the public library a destination place for families with very young children,” Davis said. “Play is a very integral part of learning. It’s just as important to early literacy as exposure to print, so this new area is designed to give children a place for imaginative play. So, I’m really, really happy about that.”

The building was designed by Reed & Co. Architecture of Portland, with interior design provided by Nadine Cole of Kittery and Zachau Construction of Freeport.

In addition to the public bond, the renovation project was augmented by a capital campaign, which raised $640,000 from residents and private donors. That helped cover much of the interior work, as well as the new computers and media center. Meanwhile, the library foundation, recently merged with a longstanding friends of the library group, contributed $100,000 for furniture, fixtures and other equipment.

Following Monday’s official ribbon cutting, the new Thomas Memorial Library will host a number of events during its first official month in business. All, Neugebauer said, are designed to highlight what his predecessor Jay Scherma so often said, that a modern library is “more than just a repository for books. It is the center of any strong community.”

The full list of events, which includes piano concerts, poetry readings, comic book drawing and toy making workshops, a woodblock print demonstration, the media center kickoff event, and, what Davis said is her favorite event, a class in crochet for new and expectant parents, is available on the library website, thomasmemoriallibrary.org.

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