The $15,000 the South Portland City Council has approved for a new book drop at the main branch of the public library is not a lot of money compared to the other capital projects set for the new fiscal year.

The proposed $8.1 million capital budget also includes $210,000 for a new ambulance, $120,000 for six new bus shelters, $180,000 for a new public works plow truck and $12,000 for the design of a new pedestrian bridge on the Greenbelt Walkway, among other projects.

Even so, it was the proposed drop box that was the item most discussed during a recent council meeting.

In answer to questions asked by Councilor Maxine Beecher at the April 22 council meeting, Kevin Davis, the library director, said the biggest expense for the book drop would be cutting through the stonework and the 1-foot outer concrete wall.

Following the meeting, Davis told the Current because of the stone fac?ade and the thick concrete wall, installing the new book drop would be “a very specialized job,” which is one reason the project is slated to cost so much.

In addition, Davis said, the book drop has a lot of moving parts, which makes it “tricky” to install.

“It’s not just a hole in the wall,” he said. “The book drop has a series of hinges and flaps designed to keep the weather out and allow the books to fall gently.”

He’s not sure when the new book drop would be installed, but said he’d like to get moving on it “as quickly as possible. I know many of our patrons are very excited.”

A new book drop is needed, Davis told the council, because the current drop box opens out into the main hallway and therefore cannot be used when the library is open.

That causes a hardship for those with disabilities or for young families, who would often like to just jump out of the car, put their materials in the book drop and drive off, without having to climb the stairs or take the elevator to the main floor of the library.

In a memo provided to the council to explain the need for the new book drop, Davis said, “The most frequent – and longstanding – complaint the library department receives from citizens is about the book return at the main library.”

In addition to the inconvenience of having to return materials to the main desk when the library is open, Davis also said, “In the past year, the mechanisms of the existing book drop have deteriorated to a point where we are now receiving more and more complaints about (its) basic functionality.”

He added, “Sometimes the door doesn’t close after items are returned, items often get stuck inside the chute and – a couple of times in the past year – the door and part of the chute have detached from the frame and come off in people’s hands.”

Davis said the $15,000 he asked for would allow the library to install “a modern, through-the-wall book drop system,” which would also provide “protection from moisture, heat, fire and vandalism.”

He also said, “A new, properly functioning (drop box) will take better care of library materials, allowing for a longer usable life for our items.”

And, Davis told the council, the new book drop could also be upgraded in the future to “allow for returned items to be automatically checked in as soon as they pass through the chute.”

In talking with the Current, he said the new book drop would be located about 4 to 5 feet to the left of the current drop box, which means that returned items would now drop into a secure, non-public space rather than the floor of the entry lobby.

In supporting the cost of the new book drop, Councilor Claude Morgan said the current system “is like something out of the stone age,” and said he’s been “astonished with the (how) the drop box (works) for years.”

Morgan said the new book drop would limit damage to books and other library materials and said that while, “on the face of it some (capital) items are difficult to accept,” in this instance Davis has said the project is needed.

He also admitted to having some “sticker-shock moments” when reviewing the capital budget for the 2015-2016 fiscal year, but also said, “I’ve come full circle on many items that initially did not appeal to me at all.”

Mayor Linda Cohen also supported the expenditure for the new book drop, saying she’s used the library for 30 years and has always been dismayed about the books landing on the floor in the main entry where people track in dirt, rain and snow.

“We’ve never really had a good system for returning books,” she said.

Resident Patricia White questioning why the project would cost so much money.

White said the cost of the book drop “seems out of proportion for what is needed” and said that while $15,000 is “small potatoes, small potatoes can add up to a very large roasting pan.”

The book drop at the South Portland Public Library is “like something out of the stone age,” which is why it’s been slated for replacement.Staff photo by Kate Irish Collins

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