Westbrook officials have scrapped a proposal to move the Walker Memorial Library into a vacant library building on Main Street because the asking price was too high.

Instead, the city is moving forward with a $1.2 million to $2 million renovation of the historic building that houses the Walker Library.

The Facilities and Streets Committee, a subcommittee of the City Council, will meet Nov. 8 to discuss the proposed renovation, which would likely be completed in phases. The committee will make a recommendation to the City Council for final approval.

A consultant hired by the city in June 2009 said the 1893 Queen Anne-style library building needs repairs to its slate roof and brick exterior walls, which are loose, deteriorated and mossy. Rainwater seeps through, damaging the interior wooden wall panels, windows and floors in the gathering room.

The report from Building Envelope Consultants said one section of flooring on the first level tested positive for asbestos, and some walls and ceilings in the basement tested positive for mold spores.

Library Director Karen Valley has raised concerns that mold and asbestos could affect the health of the staff and volunteers. But she said it’s a beautiful building that should be preserved for the community.

“It’s a treasure to the city and to the Greater Portland area,” Valley said.

Councilor John O’Hara, vice chairman of the Facilities and Streets Committee, said the renovation would be money well spent.

“It’s an excellent decision by the city to look at bringing the library back to its grandeur,” O’Hara said. “In these tough economic times, it’s a bitter pill to swallow, but it’s a cornerstone of our historic heritage and must be saved for future generations.”

Earlier this year, the council approved a capital improvement bond that included $675,000 for library purposes. The city also secured an $85,000 grant to replace the heating system in the building. A portion of the bond will be used as matching funds for the grant.

City Administrator Jerre Bryant met with library officials Tuesday night to discuss the proposed renovation. He said the city is working with the library’s trustees and regents to prioritize the building’s needs. He said the project will likely be extended over a few years.

“It seems like this is the best opportunity for the city at this point,” Bryant said. “The goal is to have a public library operating in the city.”

The city explored other potential uses for the Walker Library, such as selling it to a business or an organization that would preserve its historical integrity.

The decision to renovate followed months of discussion of a plan to buy the vacant Warren Memorial Library, which closed in May 2009 and is now for sale.

Warren Library officials attributed the closing to a weak market on Wall Street, which depleted the library’s endowment. The Warren Library opened with a donation from the family of Samuel Warren, founder of the former S.D. Warren paper mill in Westbrook.

The library opened in the mill in the late 19th century as a reading room for employees. It was moved to its current location and became public in 1929. In 2003, a $3 million expansion doubled the size of the two-story Georgian-style building.

Rene Daniel, spokesman for the Warren Memorial Foundation’s trustees, said the trustees asked the city to pay fair market value for the library, which is appraised at $1.2 million to $1.3 million. The board hired CB Richard Ellis/The Boulos Co. on Tuesday to start marketing the building.

“I’d rather see (the city) buy our library,” Daniel said. “It would be a perfect use of that building.”

Mayor Colleen Hilton said the city tried for months to negotiate a deal to buy the Warren Library, but the asking price was too high.

She said Walker Library and city officials will begin exploring ways to fund the renovation through grants and private donations.

“We simply don’t have the money for completing it all in one shot,” she said. “We will need to be creative in finding funding.”

 

Staff Writer Melanie Creamer can be contacted at 791-6361 or at: [email protected]