CAPE ELIZABETH – Supporters of a plan for a new town library are regrouping after voters’ rejection of a proposal to borrow as much as $6 million to replace Thomas Memorial Library.
“I think the next step is in the hands of the Town Council,” said RuthAnne Haley, chairwoman of the library’s board of trustees. “They’re going to have to reevaluate their options, whether they find funding to continue putting Band-Aids on this ancient building or if they bring the question to the taxpayers and voters again.”
The plan to replace the library had an estimated cost of as much as $8.1 million, with officials expecting to raise as much as $2 million through donations and grants.
Voters turned down the plan on Nov. 6 by a vote of 3,566 to 2,696.
The proposal to build a new library came out of a report in 2009 that documented more than 100 deficiencies at Thomas Memorial, including violations of Americans with Disabilities Act guidelines; inefficient heating, venting and air conditioning systems; and floors that cannot support fully loaded library stacks.
The report, by Wisconsin-based consultants Himmel & Wilson, said changing the use of the existing space would not meet the library’s needs, and building an addition would not be worth the expense.
“I don’t think we’re going to have another proposal to send to citizens in the coming year. I think it’s going to take a while,” said Town Councilor David Sherman Jr. “The studies that went into this — and the time — it’s pretty substantial.”
It’s not clear what the rejection of the library bond says about the spending mood of Cape Elizabeth voters.
The voters last rejected a municipal capital project when they voted against sewers in the early 1980s, said Town Manager Michael McGovern.
Borrowing for other large municipal projects — he public safety department, the Community Services building and the public works facility — was approved by the Town Council without townwide votes.
The council has the authority to move forward without a vote, but it opted to ask for voters’ approval of the library project.
While voters rejected the library project on Nov. 6, they solidly supported all four state bond proposals on the ballot.
Haley said she believes the library proposal suffered from last-minute opposition ads, which cited a recent review of town-owned facilities that found as much as $12.5 million in construction needs.
Bill De Sena said he is among a group of residents who opposed the library plan.
He said the group had about 38 active members who wanted to remain anonymous because the library was a “pretty hot topic.”
“We realize that the library needs some attention,” he said, but “the concept was not well-vetted. And just spending six to eight million dollars in these tough economic times — with uncertainty out there — we thought that there were a lot higher priorities in the town.”
De Sena was the founder of Cape For All, a now-defunct group that pushed fiscal responsibility.
He said the new group used Cape For All’s email list of more than 1,000 addresses to distribute its opposition letter. The message was sent out and signed with the Cape For All banner.
A group called Citizen Advocates for Public Education also sent out a mass email, which cited the facilities report and said rejection of the library plan would trigger a reassessment of the town’s larger capital spending needs.
Dan Fishbein, a member of the organization’s steering committee, said in an email that the group did not take a position on the library borrowing but wanted to encourage voters to make an informed decision.
The Town Council will consider facility issues in January, and the matter may be part of a discussion of goals at a workshop on Monday, said Town Manager Michael McGovern.
“I think we’re really going to give a lot of thought to why the citizens voted the way they did,” he said.
Staff Writer Ann S. Kim can be contacted at 791-6383 or at: