ELLSWORTH — Will voters support a multi-million-dollar project to put the city’s library on a solid footing for the future?
That will be the $4.95-million question when Ellsworth citizens head to the polls Tuesday, Nov. 3.
Actually, make that the $6.7-million question.
The municipal ballot will ask residents if they support a $4.95-million bond for the “repair, renovation and expansion of the current Tisdale House portion of the Ellsworth Public Library.”
With interest factored in over 20 years, the total price tag of the bond is estimated at $6,665,175.
Ron Fortier, chairman of the library’s board of trustees, does not dispute that that is a lot of money. Especially on the heels of a 7.65-percent jump in the city’s property tax rate this year.
He said taking care of the Tisdale House, however, is important and he believes this is the time to do it.
“We feel, as trustees, that we have the responsibility to try to preserve and protect that building as much as we can,” Fortier said. “We hope the community feels the same way.”
The bond issue is going to residents following two votes by the City Council, one in May and one in September. Councilors said they recognized the money being asked for is a large sum, but said it is time to let voters weigh in on the future of the library.
Councilor Marc Blanchette voted against the proposal both times, and for the second vote in September was joined in opposition by Councilor John Phillips.
The Tisdale House faces the intersection of State, Main and Water streets. It is home to the library’s children’s rooms, main entrance and staff space upstairs.
Built in 1817, the building was given to the city 80 years later with the condition that it always be “used for a public library.”
While Fortier said the building is structurally sound, overall, it does not have a good foundation below it. Water gets in through the existing stone foundation, which sits on ledge, and the basement cannot be used as functional space.
The $4.95 million would pay for the Tisdale House to be lifted up and set on the lawn so the old foundation and 5 feet of ledge can be removed. A new foundation would be built, and the building would then be set on top of it.
The money would also pay for modernizing the building by adding insulation. Fortier said that would save on heating costs. The new foundation would allow parts of the basement to be used for storage, freeing up space in the library for collections and programming.
Most of the $4.95 million — $3,326,000 of it — would go toward construction costs. The remaining $1,624,000 would be used to pay for bond and administrative costs, such as permitting fees and design work, and also includes a contingency line.
Architects are still finalizing the plans for the project, Fortier said, and he believes it is likely the project will require less money than that. The $4.95-million bond issue is being asked for, however, to be safe.
Even if it comes in at a lower cost, Fortier acknowledges the work will still be pricey. Moving an old building and following rules related to its status — the building is on the National Register of Historic Places — is not cheap, he said, and neither is getting rid of ledge.
Something must be done about the old foundation, however, and Fortier said low building costs and interest rates mean this is when the library should move forward with the work.
“It’s a matter of timing, and the timing, to me, seems to be right,” he said. “The need, to us as trustees, overcomes the expense.”
If the bond issue fails at the polls in November, Fortier said trustees will likely take a little time off and then regroup to get a similar proposal on the ballot sometime next year.
Fortier said the trustees see the Tisdale House as an important part of the library overall, and that many residents seem to feel the same way. He hopes that feeling translates into support at the polls on Nov. 3.
“This is a need,” he said of the planned project. “No matter what we do, that building needs work.”