WALLAGRASS, Maine — The SAD 27 board of directors demonstrated its support of proposed library improvements at the Wallagrass Elementary School with a $25,000 appropriation toward the project.
Funding is contingent on voter approval of the overall district budget and a successful Maine Community Development Block Grant, but members indicated the move would send a powerful message to the granting agency.
“We need that show of community support,” Jamie Desjardins, SAD 27 district librarian, said after the board’s vote at its regular meeting Thursday night. “I am floored the board did this and moved so quickly on it.”
About 100 community members were on hand for the meeting held at the school.
Desjardins is in the final stages of preparing the a $200,000 CDBG application due in to the state March 9 and said any demonstrations of community backing weigh in favor of the application.
According to Desjardins, only one CDBG will be awarded in Aroostook County this year.
The $200,000 would supplement a $50,000 Stephen and Tabitha King Foundation grant received in 2009 and an additional $50,000 in cash and in-kind donations the project has received.
The Wallagrass Elementary School library is housed now in a 20-by-12-foot space which, Desjardins said, is much too cramped to meet the students’ needs.
“There used to be two tiny rooms for the library, and now we are down to just one,” Desjardins said. “It’s just a table with eight chairs around it.”
That lack of space means there are times when students must sit on the floor in the library or out in the hall.
During those times, Desjardins added, books on the lower shelves are inaccessible because of students sitting in front of them.
Desjardins, who has been working on the library project since 2009, said she has received three constructions estimates for a new 2,200-square-foot attachment to the existing school building, and the cost will be close to $300,000.
In addition to more space the new library will include a small performance stage, more books and periodicals and improved computer and Internet access to students and the community.
“We’d really like to have evening and summer hours,” Desjardins said. “Learning does not take place just 175 days a year.”
Desjardins hopes to get additional funding with a $10 per capita municipal appropriation which she said is on the March 29 annual town meeting warrant.
Assuming the needed funding is secured by this spring, Desjardins said the new library could be constructed and ready for students by the start of the 2012 school year.
“We definitely need something bigger,” said Barry Ouellette, SAD 27 board chairman. “I’m just not sure if it can be as big as you have shown us here.”
Ouellette added that for some board members, this was the first time they had seen an overview of the project and the plans needed to go through the district’s facilities and policy committees for review.
“With enrollments down, there are going to be some hard decisions to make with the budget,” Ouellette said.
The district’s two other outlying elementary schools in St. Francis and Eagle Lake each have stand-alone buildings serving as library space acquired through a lease-purchase agreement with the state in 2003 and 2004, said Tim Doak, district superintendent.
Local funding, Doak said, was $45,000 per building spread over a six-year period.
Ouellette and Doak also said several other questions about a new WES library remained, including funding for upkeep and whether ownership would fall to the district or community.
Board member James O’Malley indicated waiting to act on the project could doom it from the start.
“If we wait until everyone is all in agreement about everything this ship is going to sail,” he said. “Why don’t we approve a token amount to give [Desjardins’] application something to hang on to?”
O’Malley, with the support of fellow board members Joel Bossie and Harold Jackson, proposed the $25,000, five-year appropriation pending approval of the CDBG application.
“We need that community support and to be able to show this in the grant application is huge,” Desjardins said. “We’ve been working on this for 2½ years, and we are not giving up.”