February 25

Augusta’s Lithgow Library renovation estimate up nearly $3M from 2007 figure

A fundraising campaign has gathered $2.3 million in private donations, but the City Council hasn’t decided yet when to hold a referendum of public funding of the project.

By Keith Edwards kedwards@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

AUGUSTA — The estimated cost of renovating and expanding Lithgow Public Library has increased by nearly $3 million since voters rejected borrowing funds for basically the same project in a 2007 referendum.

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Original: Contributed photos Artist's renderings of Lithgow Library expansion Published: Contributed photo THE GOAL ENVISIONED: An artistÕs rendering of the planned expansion of Lithgow Public Library in Augusta.

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Augusta council has full agenda

The Augusta City Council meets Thursday with Lithgow Public Library supporters to discuss funding the proposed now-$11.7 million renovation and expansion of the city-owned library.

Councilors, who meet at 6:30 p.m. Thursday in council chambers at Augusta City Center, also are scheduled to:

• Discuss a proposal to let businesses in the city make donations to receive a transferable pass to the city-owned Bicentennial Nature Park to allow their employees to use the park. The park is otherwise limited to residents and guests only;

• Discuss the proposed 2014 capital improvement plan;

• Discuss tax increment financing agreements including a potential new agreement covering natural gas facilities in the city, and changes to TIF agreements with NRF Distributors and the Marketplace at Augusta;

• Discuss Homeland Security grant money for the city; and

• Meet in a closed-door session to discuss labor negotiations.

The architect who designed the 31,000-square-foot library project several years ago recently provided an updated, detailed estimate of the cost of the project, which previously had been pegged at $8.9 million.

Now, some seven years after a referendum on borrowing funds to pay for the project failed by 243 votes, the estimated cost has swelled to estimated $11.7 million.

Library Director Elizabeth Pohl said the increased cost isn’t surprising because construction costs have gone up since the renovation of the city-owned building first was proposed.

She said the recent update from architect J. Stewart Roberts is more detailed than previous cost estimates and provides a comprehensive plan that would address the library building’s many problems, including a lack of accessibility for people with disabilities, which puts the building out of compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act; leaks which lead to flooding; insufficient space for collections or programming; no space for teenagers; and antiquated, inefficient building systems.

“We waited and delayed and the result is a higher cost, to really address those problems,” Pohl said. “We’re not just talking construction, but demo, site work, architect’s fees, construction, landscaping, furnishings, you name it. So it’s going to be a big number no matter how you look at it. Clearly, the seven-year delay didn’t help.”

Detractors of the 2007 proposal said the project relied too heavily on taxpayer funding and not enough on private fundraising. In that proposal, the city would have borrowed $6.9 million in a bond, with supporters pledging to raise the additional $2 million needed to cover what was, then, an estimated cost of $8.9 million.

Now Friends of Lithgow Library officials have committed to raising at least $3 million for the project, about $2.3 million of which they’ve raised in cash and pledges already.

Because of the increased cost indicated by the updated estimate, however, taxpayers now would be responsible for somewhat more money than they would have paid under the 2007 proposal. This time, the city’s commitment would reach $7.5 million, with $7 million coming from a proposed bond that could go to voters for consideration as soon as June. The other $500,000 is tax revenue that councilors already have set aside for the project.

Wick Johnson, co-chairman of the Lithgow fundraising campaign, said a prime difference between now and 2007 is that now private money — $2.3 million so far — has been raised, while in 2007 no private money had been raised for the project before the bond question went to voters.

He said even at more than $11 million, the project is “an incredibly good value.”

“What we’re putting together is a package that will create a high-quality facility that will last for generations,” Johnson said. “What we’re looking for is the right time to do this, and this is the right time. Every month that goes by, the price will go up. And every month that goes by, the need will get greater. We’re at the point where it is time to do this project.”

Mayor William Stokes noted the privately raised money essentially would cover the cost increase since 2007.

“It’s a significant amount of money, and I’m sure all of us would like the number to be smaller; but six and a half years have passed,” Stokes said. “So it was not unexpected that it would cost more. At one time we were hopeful that, with the recession, we were expecting to see lower prices, because contractors were eager for the business. That window may have been there when we were in the depths of the recession, but I think that window has closed.”

(Continued on page 2)

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