Library plans $400K remodel

ELLSWORTH — Four years after a $4.95-million bond to fund an expansion of the Ellsworth Public Library was defeated at the ballot box, library officials are back with a new plan.

The project, a $400,000 renovation to be funded by grants and private donors, would add floor space by expanding the second-floor balcony level on both sides, said Director Amy Wisehart.

“We have collections we can’t even fit on the shelf,” Wisehart said. “We’re just bursting at the seams.”

Library trustees recently got word that they received a $50,000 grant from the Stephen and Tabitha King Foundation that will help kick start fundraising for the project.

“Trustees are matching this with $50,000 in private funding already secured (mostly through individual donors) and we are planning a fundraising campaign for the remainder of the funds needed for the project,” said Wisehart.

“We’re optimistic we can fundraise for it,” she said.

In an email, Wisehart added: “Library trustees feel that public funding of a building renovation project is not feasible at this point, given the defeat of the building expansion bond in 2015. They are committed to saving taxpayer funds and using only private funding (grants and donations) to fund this project.”

There is no timeline for the renovation, said Wisehart, which depends on how quickly trustees are able to raise the money.

Brewer-based construction firm Nickerson O’Day provided an estimate and concept drawings for the project, Wisehart said.

The plans include cutouts around the library’s large two-story windows, said Wisehart, with enough room for the library’s Christmas tree on the State Street side.

“That’s been the biggest concern we’ve heard from people,” said Wisehart, particularly about the window facing the Union River. “That window is beautiful. We’re hoping to preserve the view and as much natural light as possible.”

The historic portion of the library building, 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.” It is on the National Register of Historic Places.

A three-story addition to the library was completed in 1991. The addition houses adult fiction and non-fiction and several reading areas. The proposed renovation would close in much of the space that is now open between the first and second floors in order to create more square footage.

“We are the 12th largest public library in the state in terms of population served (20,295),” said Wisehart in an email, “but 32nd in the state in terms of building size (12,500 square feet).”

Library trustees had gone to voters in 2015 to ask for funding to expand and modernize the historic portion of the building, plans that included adding insulation and building a new foundation to free up space for the collections. The bond was defeated at the ballot box, with 894 residents opposed and 605 in favor.

This scaled-back project is aimed at providing more shelf space for children’s collections and local history, as well as a small meeting room for quiet study and group meetings. The library’s print collection size is 34th in the state, said Wisehart, but it ranks 14th in the use of those materials, “so we have trouble maintaining the collection size that fits the demand in this community and adequately serves the size of the population.”

She continued: “This renovation will meet some of our most pressing space needs within a reasonable budget.”

Library officials welcome feedback on the plans, said Wisehart. Members of the public can contact Wisehart by filling out the form on the library website,, or by emailing the trustees directly: [email protected].

Kate Cough

Kate Cough

Kate covers the city of Ellsworth, including the Ellsworth School Department and the city police beat, as well as the towns of Amherst, Aurora, Eastbrook, Great Pond, Mariaville, Osborn, Otis and Waltham. She lives in Bar Harbor and welcomes story tips and ideas. She can be reached at [email protected]

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