April 20, 2019

Panel rethinks library location> Two dozen Orono sites to be reviewed in wak of complaints

ORONO — The town’s library committee backed off its recent proposal to develop Webster Park as the site for its new building.

At its Tuesday night meeting, the Orono Public Library design committee instead decided to review two dozen sites after being bombarded with complaints about last month’s selection of Webster Park as the primary site for the 10,000-square-foot building.

Despite the intense wrangling over its location, the concept of a new library seemed to have overwhelming support among community members based on the discourse at Tuesday’s meeting.

“Even if you don’t go to church, would you want to live in a town without churches?” asked Ned Sheppard, an Orono resident. “I’d ask the same thing about a library. Would anyone here want to live in a town without a library?”

Not a hand was raised. Not a voice was heard.

In an effort to maintain and increase that public support to separate the public library from the high school, the committee decided to take a step back and review all of the possible sites — this time actively soliciting public comment on the selection.

Charles Russ, who has been chairman of the library committee for nearly three years, proposed revisiting the selection process Tuesday to ensure that townspeople had a chance to speak their minds before a site was final.

“I don’t mind taking a few steps back … if it means we’ll have more support for the library,” Russ said. “We need to get there in concert and build a firmer base in order to get this thing to go.”

The project ran into a high hurdle last month when the library committee decided to recommend the Webster Park site.

The town-owned park, located on the north shore of the Stillwater River, has been left virtually undeveloped for 90 years. While it was the committee’s first choice, the site’s cool reception at a Dec. 8 public information meeting forced members to take another look at the proposal, Russ said.

Critics of the plan to build the library in the park cited, among other reasons, the potential environmental impact on the area.

Resident Margaret Pinsky said that while she supported a new library, she objected to the Webster Park site because such a project would undoubtedly affect the area’s natural beauty.

“As much as I think having a separate library will be a good thing and be very valuable to the town, I object to putting it in the park simply on principle because I object to using the green space,” Pinsky said after the meeting. “And I understand some of the frustration about starting over, but they knew the Webster Park site would be a controversial one and you have to have public support for the project. You have to sell it to the people.”

While the vast majority of residents living near the park were against the proposal, some welcomed the new library.

Janeen Teal, who lives near Webster Park, said she supported the idea and commended the committee’s hard work in earnestly reviewing potential sites for the new project.

“I think Webster Park is a wonderful place for the library,” she said. “And I think staring over is a great disservice to this design committee which has worked so hard on this and explored the possibilities of each site. This could go on and on and on for a long time. It’s very discouraging.”

The $2 million facility would be funded entirely through private donations. Annual operating costs are estimated at $50,000.

Library Director Katherine Molloy said after Tuesday’s meeting that a subcommittee would document in detail the pros and cons of the committee’s top 10 sites, as well as provide less detailed descriptions of sites all but eliminated by the committee. She said the findings then would be presented at a subsequent meeting of the design committee.

The next library committee meeting is scheduled for Feb. 16.

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