Inside the Rice Public Library in Kittery, where residents in 2017 voted in favor of a plan to renovate and expand the 1888 building. Credit: Rich Beauchesne | Portsmouth Herald

KITTERY, Maine — Town Manager Kendra Amaral said she’s not comfortable bonding a $4 million project to renovate the Rice Public Library if it decides to remain a nonprofit organization independent of the town.

Whether or not the library will be absorbed as a town department is one of the issues being decided on by one of three town library committees currently working to chart a future course for the entity that sees 4,791 members annually.

In 2017, an overwhelming majority of voters chose a rehabilitation and addition option of a non-binding referendum question asking what the town should do with the Rice Public Library. The other choices were to build a new library, or do neither.

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In the year since, the Town Council established three committees to oversee the project; one charged with handling the library’s transition from a nonprofit to a town department, one as the building committee for the expansion, and a third for the disposition of the Taylor Building.

The Library Building Committee recently shortlisted three firms to interview for the design services phase of the renovation project: Holzmann Moss Bottino Architecture of New York City, Scott Simmons Architects of Portland, and ARQ Architects of Kittery, chosen out of a pool of nine proposals. The committee expected to perform interviews this week and then begin contract negotiations with their selected pick.

Amaral noted funding for the first design phase is included in this year’s Capital Improvement Program.

The “major ball” in the library’s hands, Amaral said in her report to the Town Council Monday, is the decision surrounding whether or not it wants to become a town department or retain an independent 501c3 nonprofit designation.

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“I have made it pretty clear with the library board that seeking the town to bond millions of dollars is not something I’m particularly comfortable doing with them as a separate 501c3,” she said. “I think they understand that and are considering it very thoughtfully and very thoroughly.”

Amaral said she expects that decision to come in February. That same transition committee has also completed its inventory of assets and a detailed analysis of the staff benefit comparisons.

The Taylor Building Committee was instrumental in launching the Foreside development survey, Amaral said, and is awaiting results, along with information from the building committee to determine next steps. Results of that survey should give a better picture of what residents want to see done with the Taylor Building.

If all goes according to plan, the town hopes to see library renovation begin in the summer of 2020 with full occupancy and a grand opening by November 2021.