February 8, 2013

Augusta council OKs $50,000 boost to restart Lithgow Library expansion

Money set aside for expansion project will update plans, cost estimates for $8 million project

AUGUSTA — Municipal officials and library advocates hope $50,000 in city money will help advance both the architectural plan and fundraising efforts for a proposed $8 million expansion and renovation of Lithgow Public Library.

click image to enlarge

Artist's rendering of the Lithgow Library expansion.

Contributed photo

City councilors voted unanimously Thursday to take $50,000 from city funds set aside for library construction and combine it with $50,000 in privately raised money to hire the architect who already has drawn up plans for the long-awaited library project. The architect will refine those plans and firm up cost estimates.

Library Director Elizabeth Pohl said the money will pay for the architectural firm of Johnson Roberts Associates — which has already prepared schematics, floor plans, elevations and a three-dimensional model — to take the next steps to develop the design. That will include adding technical details such as furnishings and systems, and other information that will allow for firmer cost estimates for the project.

“This will give us plans and a better idea of the budget,” Pohl said.

Library leaders hope the city’s money also will give the nonprofit group Friends of Lithgow Library’s fundraising efforts for the project a boost by showing the city is committed to renovating and expanding the city-owned building. 

“As we talk to people about contributions, especially people with foundations, the piece they’re most interested in is the partnership with the city,” said Charles Johnson, co-chairman of the Friends’ fundraising campaign. “It gives credibility. This vote is very significant, because it gets (the public portion of the fundraising campaign) going.”

Friends of Lithgow hopes to raise $4 million for the library project. Johnson said they’ve raised about $1.3 million so far, including, since the start of the year, $6,000 in donations, $52,000 in pledges, and $253,000 in cash. He said most of the cash was from a matching contribution made by local resident and philanthropist Elsie Viles, who has pledged to donate up to $500,000 for the library project, as her donation is matched by others.

“Private fundraising is going extremely well,” Johnson said. “I think we’re in position, within the next year, to get to the point we can see the $4 million. We’re a third of the way there now.”

In 2007, city voters rejected a proposal to borrow $6.9 million to renovate and more than double the size of the library, by a vote of 2,158–1,915.

At the time, the project was expected to cost about $8.9 million, with the difference funded by money to be raised privately.

After the rejection, officials and volunteers formulated a plan to raise half the estimated cost of the project privately, with the rest to come from a future city bond, which likewise will require voter approval.

Shortly after the 2007 vote, the city established the reserve account for the future library construction project, which is where the city’s $50,000 share of contracting with the architect will come from.

City Manager William Bridgeo said the account balance is now about $71,000, collected from various sources, including the sale of property on which the city foreclosed for failure to pay taxes.

Library advocates have sought an expansion and renovation of the library for years, to address multiple deficiencies in the newer section of the building added in the 1970s, and a lack of space. But their proposals were pushed aside at various times over those years, as attention was focused upon other projects, such as the new YMCA and new Cony High School.

“You’re at the head of the line now, and will stay at the head of the line this time around,” City Councilor Michael Byron told Pohl and Johnson. 

Keith Edwards — 621-5647
kedwards@centralmaine.com

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