AUGUSTA — A proposed renovation and expansion of the city-owned Lithgow Public Library needs an injection of $50,000 in city reserve money to keep the project moving forward, advocates say.

Such city funding, which would come from a special reserve account established to collect money for the project, would be matched by $50,000 in private money raised by the nonprofit Friends of Lithgow Library.

The combined $100,000 would be used to hire the architect, who already has drawn up the proposed expansion and renovation plans, to refine those blueprints with more details and update cost estimates.

City councilors plan to meet Thursday to vote on whether to contract with the architectural firm of Johnson Roberts Associates for up to $100,000, with the sum split between the city’s reserve account and the Friends of Lithgow Library. The meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. in the council chambers at Augusta City Center.

Friends group members say the city’s cash infusion also would help them win over potential donors as part of the effort to raise $4 million in donations. Officials say the financial contribution from the city would signal a commitment to expanding and renovating the library.

Charles “Wick” Johnson, co-chairman of the Friends’ fundraising campaign, recently told city councilors potential donors have asked whether the city is going to come through with its share of the cost of the project.

Mayor William Stokes suggested that is a fair question.

“Donors want to know: Does the city care about its own building?” Stokes said. “It’s the city’s building, but we’re fortunate enough to have a group of people who said they’re willing to pony up half. But they need to be able to say they have the support of the owner of the building. If you’re a potential donor, and the owner of the building is saying, ‘We don’t really care,’ then I don’t know how you’re going to raise $4 million.”

City Councilor Darek Grant acknowledged the city is in challenging economic times but said the library’s much-needed expansion and renovation would be a good investment in the community and its children, and money well spent.

However, City Councilor Jeffrey Bilodeau would prefer the proposal come to councilors in June so it can be considered as part of the annual budget. While he doesn’t disagree with the need to renovate the library, Bilodeau said, he might look at it differently if it came down to choosing to spend the $50,000 for architectural plans for the library or spending the $50,000 to save other city services.

In 2007, city voters rejected a proposal to borrow $6.9 million to renovate and more than double the size of the library, by a vote of 2,158–1,915.

At the time, the project was expected to cost about $8.9 million, with the difference funded by money to be raised privately.

After the rejection, officials and volunteers formulated a plan to raise half the estimated cost of the project privately, with the rest to come from a future city bond, which likewise will require voter approval.

Shortly after the 2007 vote, the city established a reserve account for the future library construction project. City Manager William Bridgeo said the account balance is about $71,000, collected from various sources, including the sale of property on which the city foreclosed for failure to pay taxes.
Johnson said so far the library fundraising campaign has brought in about $1.3 million. He expects the $4 million in private funds to be raised within the next 18 months.

Library Director Elizabeth Pohl said having more detailed architectural plans would allow for a more accurate estimate of the project’s costs. She noted other major construction projects since 2007 have cost less than expected.

Pohl also said more detailed plans would allow fundraisers to sell naming opportunities in the project, such as was done with some of the bricks used to build Cony High School in 2006.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647
[email protected]