May 24, 2018
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PI council accepts $1 million donation for library addition

By Jen Lynds, BDN Staff

PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — City councilors on Monday evening accepted a $1 million donation that will be used to expand the Mark and Emily Turner Memorial Library, contingent upon final approval of building plans, a budget for the project and other matters.

Officials at the 102-year-old library announced on Monday that a California woman with ties to the city had given the facility $1 million to fund an expansion project. The woman, Mary Barton Akeley Smith, visited Presque Isle in the past year and came into the library to use a computer. While she was doing so, she overheard another patron who was using the phone. He was calling employers to whom he had sent resumes to ensure they had received them. She then realized how important the library is to the community, especially to those who do not have a computer or telephone of their own.

Smith’s grandmother Beulah Barton Akeley was the librarian in Presque Isle from 1932 to 1945. Her father and mother were born and raised in Aroostook County.

Community members use the library not only for its books, computers and the Internet, but also for notary and passport services.

Librarian Sonja Plummer-Morgan said Tuesday that she was pleased by the council’s decision. She said library officials aren’t sure what the final plan for the expanded building will look like, but she and the board of trustees have several ideas for the library.

“We need a greater area for people to gather for programs,” she said. “We also need to expand the children’s area so we can provide more services to teenagers. They are our underserved population, and that can be fixed. We also are not meeting the demand for computers.”

Plummer-Morgan said the library’s computers were used at least 103,000 times last year.

“We are not meeting the needs in that area, and we recognize that,” she said. “We could use more computers.”

The expansion also will add more space for books and other materials and will make the facility more compliant with the Americans With Disabilities Act. Library officials would like to install an elevator in the building to make the three floors of the facility more accessible.

The gift will cover the bulk of the $1.5 million expansion project. Plummer-Morgan said that the library’s board of trustees already has voted to allocate $250,000 for the project. Library officials have approached the City Council about using city funds for the project and also will garner a chunk of the remaining money needed through fundraising. Smith requested that the community contribute some money toward the project, but City Manager Jim Bennett said Tuesday that councilors have not yet discussed what they will put forth financially.

“We will discuss the issue in more detail once we see what the final expansion project will include and once we have a budget in front of us,” he said. “We also would like to see what could be done for energy efficiency to cut down on energy losses.”

City and library officials have formed a building committee. Plummer-Morgan said that work on the expansion project would begin immediately, starting with completing architectural plans.

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