CAPE ELIZABETH — When town voters soundly rejected a $6 million bond proposal to replace the aging and cramped Thomas Memorial Library in 2012, town leaders took the defeat to heart and basically started over.

They returned two years later with a renovation and expansion plan that would save taxpayers $2 million and preserve both the 1849 Spurwink School and the original 1912 Pond Cove School that were the bookends of the library building.

Voters overwhelmingly approved the $4 million bond and in recent days got to see the results of their decision. The wholly renovated and expanded library opened Thursday, kicking off several weeks of special events, including a ribbon-cutting ceremony at 9 a.m. Monday.

“It looks awesome,” said Diana Lamb, who visited the library Thursday morning with her husband, Micah, and their 6-month-old daughter, Addley.

“It strikes me how cozy and welcoming it is,” Lamb said, checking out four Thos. Moser cherry easy chairs clustered near a gas fireplace in the adult reading area. “It looks very inviting, like we could come by and grab a couple books and spend days here.”

In the wake of the 2012 defeat, the library planning and building committees reached out to the community to find out what people wanted from their library and pored over every detail of its design and construction.

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“Everybody was really open,” said Martha Palmer, a library trustee and building committee member. “This was a second attempt. It was a more reasonable cost and it involved more careful consideration of what the community needed and what would fit the character of the town center.”

MIXING OLD WITH NEW

The result is an attractive, inviting and sustainable design that seamlessly connects the original Pond Cove School building, which fronts the library property on Scott Dyer Road, with the modern addition to the rear.

“They did a really good job of integrating the two. You can’t tell where one ends and the other begins,” said Kyle Neugebauer, library director, a job he started recently after working at the Westbrook library.

The project incorporates the more traditional aspects of a library with modern features that aim to attract a wider variety of community members. Desks have either computers for public use or electrical outlets to plug in laptops. There’s a game room with a 70-inch television and a media lab with video editing equipment and a green-screen wall.

The town’s vision was brought to life by Reed & Co. Architecture of Portland, with interior designer Nadine Cole of Kittery and Zachau Construction of Freeport.

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In addition to the $4 million bond issue to cover construction, a capital campaign raised $640,000 and the library foundation contributed $100,000 for furniture, fixtures and equipment, said Frank Governali, a building committee member and co-chairman of the capital campaign.

The previous 14,500-square-foot building was not only plagued by structural problems, it also had only 10,000 square feet of usable space, largely because of exterior hallways that connected the two former school buildings, Governali said.

The renovated and expanded building has 16,000 square feet of floor space – 13,700 square feet of it usable, Governali said. It also features energy-efficient lighting, heating and ventilation systems and meets federal accessibility regulations.

A committee has been established to recommend a future use for the former Spurwink School building.

‘DIFFERENT KINDS OF PROGRAMS’

The new library welcomes visitors into a large split-entry foyer. Granite stairs lead either to the upper level, where a sweeping circulation desk greets patrons of the adult and teen collections, or to the lower level, which includes the children’s area, art gallery, a large community meeting room and other flexible program spaces.

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The community room is expected to host a spectrum of gatherings, from children’s story times and adult lectures, to musical performances and youth exhibitions, like the high school robotics team demonstration that was held Saturday.

“I like that they’re offering different kinds of programs for different kinds of people,” said Eileen Taft, a retired real estate broker who checked out three traditional books and an audio book on Thursday.

The children’s area, especially, was designed to emphasize its orientation toward the existing Pond Cove Elementary School, which is located just steps from the library. A rounded reading area is situated in one corner and lined with windows that face the school.

It is one of architect Dick Reed’s favorite aspects of the new Thomas Memorial Library, one of about 30 public libraries his firm has designed.

“I love the thought of young kids coming here and looking out the window at the school and thinking, ‘I might like to go there,’ ” Reed said.

 


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