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

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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.

Pohl said library supporters have been working toward expanding the building since 1996.

She said the new design, replacing a 1979 addition, fits in with the older main building, which is on the National Register of Historic Places but is also modern, functional and adaptable to meet changing library needs.

Johnson, with capital campaign co-chairwoman Laurel Coleman and Friends of Lithgow Library Chairwoman Amanda Bartlett, said in a letter to the city they are committed to raising $3 million for the library project.

That’s $1 million less than their initial $4 million target, but $1.5 million more than the $1.5 million expert consultants told Lithgow supporters they could expect to bring in via fundraising. Johnson said they’re confident they can reach the $3 million figure and hope to raise more than that, but they aren’t committing themselves to more.

“Raising $2.3 million is pretty amazing for an organization that never did any fundraising before,” Pohl said. “We need to be realistic. There have been a lot of other capital campaigns. Not that we’re competing with them, but I’m sure there could be a case of campaign fatigue in the community. There has been so much work, so much generosity. I think the friends have done the very best they can and will continue to raise money.”

Stokes said the $4 million fundraising goal was an aspirational goal, not a firm fundraising commitment.

City Manager William Bridgeo said the library building’s condition is such that doing nothing to improve it is not an option. So he said he would work with Ralph St. Pierre, finance director and assistant city manager, to analyze the project’s fiscal effect and the city’s financial options.

Library supporters previously said they hoped the city would put the bond proposal to voters in the June elections, even if they haven’t completed fundraising by then. Bridgeo and Stokes said there is still enough time to get the matter on the June ballot, but that councilors have not decided when they want to bring the matter to voters. They might wait until November.

Johnson said the campaign committee still would like a June referendum, but the timing of the vote is up to councilors.

Councilors are scheduled to meet with Lithgow supporters Thursday to discuss the project and its financing, at their informational meeting, which begins at 6:30 p.m. in council chambers at Augusta City Center.

Library supporters hope to knock the $11.7 million cost down 10 percent by coming up with $1.2 million in cost reductions in the project.

Stokes said the city showing support for the project could prompt additional donations.

Stokes and Johnson said the library could be among the final pieces of a renaissance taking place in the city, where state-of-the-art buildings built in recent years include Cony High School, the YMCA, MaineGeneral Medical Center, and, across the street from the library, a courthouse complex.

Stokes said the new library, joining the new court facility, would improve one of the major gateways into the city, along State Street.

The next fundraiser for the library project is a pie sale March 14, which is International Pi Day, commemorating the mathematical concept of pi, which is 3.14. The March 14 pie sale at the library is scheduled to start at 9 a.m. and continue until all the pies are gone.

A sale of pies donated by library staff, patrons and community members in January at the library raised $900 for the capital campaign.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647 kedwards@centralmaine.com
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