Richard Libby, a retired school teacher, talks about the proposed expansion of the Scarborough Public Library on Monday. Libby says, “They need more room for books. They barely have room for what they have. But $13 million is a lot of money, and I don’t know if they’ve convinced people we need that much space. They may need to have a Plan B in mind.” Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

SCARBOROUGH — A ballot proposal to borrow $13 million to expand the Scarborough Public Library is under attack and being called excessive by a local taxpayers’ group that in the past focused on fighting school budgets.

After more than three years of planning, library trustees have pitched a $16 million plan that would nearly triple the size of the 12,884-square-foot library off Gorham Road. Town support has been strong so far.

The trustees have already raised more than $550,000 toward a $3 million private fundraising goal to complete and furnish an expanded library. The Town Council appropriated $390,000 to the planning effort and voted 5-2 to put the bond issue on the Nov. 8 ballot.

The 35,060-square-foot expanded building would be one of the largest public libraries in the state, after those in Portland, Bangor, Lewiston and Brunswick. Added space would include an atrium entryway and a two-story addition with areas for children and teens, more accessible shelved collections, reading nooks, activity areas, meeting rooms, a gallery and a computer lab.

“The library is a critical information hub in today’s world and a community center where people of all ages can feel safe and accepted,” said Bill Donovan, president of the trustees. “You would think libraries would be immune to public criticism.”

Richard Libby, a regular library patron, said he plans to vote for the expansion plan. He sees how busy the library is, especially as an afternoon landing pad for students from nearby schools. But he understands why some people question or oppose the $13 million bond issue.


“It has to grow,” Libby said of the library, standing in a narrow aisle between bookshelves. “They need more room for books. They barely have room for what they have. But $13 million is a lot of money, and I don’t know if they’ve convinced people we need that much space. They may need to have a Plan B in mind.”


Members of Scarborough Maine Advocates for Reasonable Taxes, or SMARTaxes, say they aren’t opposed to expanding the library, but the ballot proposal is the wrong size at the wrong time, according to their website and campaign materials.

A rendering of the proposed Scarborough Public Library expansion.

“We do need to expand our library,” said Susan Hamill, a SMARTaxes spokesperson. “I’m a library user. We love our library. This is just way too much.”

Hamill helped to start the taxpayers’ group in 2014 and participated in campaigns that defeated several school budget proposals at the polls, forcing significant spending cuts. Her husband, Don Hamill, was one of two councilors who voted against putting the $13 million library bond issue on the ballot.

“We have a small group of people who are really paying attention and persistent,” Susan Hamill said. “We feel like we have made an impact.”


She acknowledged that she and other SMARTaxes members had concerns about the 53,000-square-foot public safety complex constructed next to Town Hall. It was supposed to cost $19.5 million but ran $2 million over budget.

“We stayed neutral on that,” Hamill said. “We are not knee-jerk-reaction ‘no’ to everything. We try to be open-minded. Our mission is to provide information that the town might not.”

Built in 1989, the current brick library replaced the original white clapboard library built in 1899 on Black Point Road. Town officials situated the library on the Gorham Road parcel so it could be expanded, said library director Nancy Crowell. A previous expansion plan failed to win voter approval in 2006.

A historical photograph of the original Scarborough Public Library on Black Point Road. Photo courtesy of Scarborough Public Library.

“We knew when we built it, it wouldn’t be large enough long-term,” said Crowell, who has been library director for 45 years.

Town officials and SMARTaxes members proudly point to a 2021 survey of town residents about town services that found 93 percent were satisfied with library services. However, the survey didn’t ask whether residents were satisfied with the library building.

SMARTaxes members question the need for a 22,176-square-foot addition and how the trustees and their consultants decided that’s how big it should be, Hamill said.


The trustees’ proposal on the library’s website anticipates that the town’s population will grow from about 22,000 now to 27,000 within a decade, and annual library visits are expected to increase from 132,710 in 2016 to more than 185,000 by 2040.

SMARTaxes also questions the timing of the library expansion given that the town plans to build a $135 million consolidated elementary school in the next few years, as well as a possible $35 million community recreation center with a pool.


Hamill said town officials failed to consider the mounting impact of various construction projects on taxpayers. The SMARTaxes website says the library expansion alone would add $1,038 over 10 years to the tax bill on a home assessed at $400,000, or $104 per year.

According to the expansion proposal, however, if the $13 million is borrowed over 30 years, it would cost the same homeowner an additional $1,000 in property taxes over that period, or $33 per year.

The SMARTaxes website advises voters that “a NO vote does not mean you are a selfish, anti-intellectual, knuckle-dragging misanthrope!” It simply indicates that they disagree with the ballot proposal, the website says.


And despite the group’s track record on school spending, the elementary school consolidation plan is one project that SMARTaxes would support, Hamill said.

“It will come down to the actual cost,” she said, “but yes, there is a great need and it has to be done.”


Dot Hale, a town resident since 1971, agrees with Hamill. She said she wasn’t happy when the “Taj Mahal” Town Hall was built in 1993, and she plans to vote against the library expansion.

“I think it’s fine the way it is,” Hale said as she headed into Town Hall to request an absentee ballot.

School children flock to the Scarborough Public Library after school on Monday, Sept. 26, 2022. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

Danielle Lavoie said she plans to vote for the expansion. She was there this week, returning a bag full of books she had picked up for her sons, ages 7 and 9.

“My boys have been reading books and accessing programs at the library their whole lives,” she said. “I believe in what libraries provide to communities and I support what the professionals recommended.”

Donovan, president of the library trustees and a former town councilor, hopes most voters agree with Lavoie. The trustees don’t have a Plan B yet.

“I’m encouraged by all of the fundraising support we’ve gotten already,” he said. “There are a lot of people expressing their support.”

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