With the help of a backhoe, the local library in Bar Harbor took a major step Wednesday morning toward its first expansion project in its 108-year history.
A contractor hired by Jesup Memorial Library demolished a house next door, at 28 Mount Desert St., where it plans to build an addition of approximately 9,000 square feet to make space for, among other things, a new community room, a new teen section and more bathrooms.
Before construction can begin, however, the library has to do two things. It has to make drainage improvements to its existing brick building, which was built in 1911 and has a basement that floods frequently during heavy rainstorms. And it has to raise an estimated $4.3 million.
Ruth Eveland, the library’s director, said Wednesday that library officials first started actively thinking about expanding in 2011, as the library was celebrating its 100th anniversary. When they found out a year later that the owners of the adjacent property planned to sell, they realized they had to act quickly and start developing plans.
“The only real development possibility was there,” Eveland said, noting that the library’s existing 0.4-acre lot was too small to accommodate an expansion, and other adjacent properties weren’t likely options. The YWCA of Mount Desert Island sits on the library’s west side, while directly behind the library is a house in a residential zone. The house next door, which had been an optometrists’ office before the library bought it, is the only place where it could grow.
Eveland noted that libraries have evolved over the decades from places to house books to places that serve as community gathering points. The Jesup library has an active slate of programs throughout the year, she said, but does not have a dedicated place where it can host those events.
“We have to rearrange everything [in the two-story reading room] to make it happen,” Eveland said. “We get great attendance for our programming.”
With the planned expansion next door, the library intends to build a community room that can seat 150 people, she said. There also will be parking and a new entrance at the rear of the building, five new bathrooms (there’s only one now), an elevator, a larger youth services area (including a new teen section) and storage for the library’s archives, which now are stored off site.
Kavanaugh Place, which runs along the west side of the YWCA and comes to a dead-end behind the library, will be connected through to School Street as part of the project, Eveland said.
In the existing building, staff office space will move to the back of the lower level, next to the new entrance, and the current children’s room will become a space where the public can sit to use the internet. Part of the current staff and storage space will be converted into a publicly available meeting room.
Before construction begins, work will start this year on preventing more rainstorm flooding on the lower level of the existing library, Eveland said. Rain events overall have become more intense, she said, and the water table has risen, which has resulted in water seeping in through the front foundation along Mount Desert Street and the walk-out back door.
“It can’t handle the amount of water that comes in these days,” Eveland said of the 108-year-old drainage system.
Adding to the problem is that the library’s storm drain pipes were disconnected not long ago from the town’s wastewater system but were left just to drain directly into the ground. Along with improving the drainage around the existing foundation, the runoff pipes will be connected to the existing storm sewer system on the east side of School Street, she said.
Eveland said the entire project, including the expansion and other improvements, is expected to cost $7.3 million. The library has raised $2.8 million of that sum so far — including half a million dollars from the Walsh family, whose Ocean Properties Ltd. portfolio of more than 125 hotels includes several hotels in Bar Harbor. This year’s work, including the demolition and revamped drainage, will cost around $1 million, of which the library still is seeking to raise $450,000.
How soon construction of the $4.3 million addition might happen depends on additional fundraising, she said, but possibly could get underway in 2020.
“We will begin as soon as we can,” Eveland said.