March 24, 2013

Straw poll gives enthusiastic go-ahead to new Richmond library plan

By Keith Edwards kedwards@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

RICHMOND — A new Umberhine Public Library could finally rise at 86 Main St. if a straw poll of residents who recently packed the town office is any indication.

click image to enlarge

A worker removes materials from the interior of the former Umberhine Public Library building in Richmond while demolishing it on March 28, 2011.

Staff file photo by Andy Molloy

A resident has proposed that local contractors build a new library for roughly a quarter of the cost of previous proposals.

Some 40 residents filled the Town Office conference room and adjoining hallway last week for a public hearing on resident Steve Musica's proposal to build a new library for less than the $245,000 in privately contributed funds already available to do so.

Following about an hour-and-a-half of lively debate, residents at the hearing voted overwhelmingly, in a non-binding straw poll, in favor of building the library.

"We've heard loud and clearly from taxpayers that no tax dollars are going into building the library," said Selectman Rose Beckwith, who said she's viewed 10 different proposals to build a new library, including one for $1.2 million, during her two terms on the board. "I commend Steve for doing this. I think he's found the needle in the haystack this community needed to be found for us to have our Umberhine Library back."

The proposed 50-by-60-foot single story library would be built on a slab at the previous site of the library. The old library was torn down two years ago because it was moldy and in disrepair. The library currently operates out of rented space at 164 Main St.

Musica said he served on previous library building committees, but resigned once the committees proposed million-dollar-plus new libraries designed by Portland architects. He said his proposal would save money by having the town serve as its own general contractor.

He said he determined the cost of the library by taking a floor plan to local contractors and getting conservative estimates from them on what it would cost to build. He said the public works crew could help with the site work.

"I resigned from both those committees because I know this town doesn't need a million-dollar library," said Musica, who was town manager in Litchfield for many years. "Over 85 percent of the money would stay in town, because local contractors could do most of this. You've got a lot of talented people here in this community."

The town already has $245,000 in a fund turned over to the town by the former library trustees, when the library, previously overseen by a private association, became a town department in 2010.

Selectman Clarence Cummins said the money came from grants and donations, specifically to build a new library. He and other town officials said the town would have to give the money back if it's not used to build a new library.

Cummins said the new library could likely be built without going to a vote by residents at the annual town meeting because the money is not coming from taxpayers. He said information on the proposal will be available at this year's town meeting, which is April 2.

Some residents said they believe building a new library is a question which should go before voters at the annual town meeting, so the decision will be made out in the open by residents.

Town Manager Marian Anderson said a final decision on whether to take the proposal before voters at a town meeting has not been made. But it won't be voted upon at this year's town meeting, she said, because there isn't time to put it on the warrant, which selectmen recently finalized.

Resident Mike Gritzkevitch Sr. suggested Richmond look to the Gardiner Public Library for services six days a week for a fee of about $15,000 a year instead of building its own library, which would cost about $30,000 a year to keep open about 20 hours a week.

Other residents expressed concern about the cost of maintaining and staffing the library.

Officials noted staff costs wouldn't increase, as the town pays them now. The library operations budget, which does go to voters at the annual town meeting, is $31,000, which includes $8,400 for rent for the 1,200 square-foot library space and $13,700 for payroll.

Selectman Peter Warner said he looked into the cost of utilities for the proposed 3,000-square-foot building and figured, even rounding up, that heat, electricity and other utilities would cost about $4,000 a year. So, he noted, the town would save $4,400 a year over the cost of renting.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647
kedwards@centralmaine.com

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