AUGUSTA – City councilors and library supporters young and old said Thursday it’s time to save Lithgow Library, before it’s too late, or more expensive.

City officials said they’re exploring creative ways to fund the estimated $11.7 million proposed renovation and expansion of the historic library, even looking into possibly selling it to the nonprofit Friends of Lithgow Library, then leasing it back if doing so could open up additional financing options.

Aidan Smith, a 12-year-old Lincoln Elementary School student, told city councilors his dad first started taking him to Lithgow when he was six months old, for infant story time. Now he is participating in Rocking Readers, a book club for kids and their parents to share books and ideas.

“There are many things I like about my library, but I’m excited to see it grow and improve,” he said. “Lithgow’s expansion means more space for more books. It also means more opportunities for young readers and older readers to invest in their reading, to learn more. It means better access for wheelchairs, strollers, and scooters so more people can enjoy Lithgow. It means a safe and quiet place to do homework, which is good, because I’ll be heading to Cony (High School) soon.”

The estimated cost of renovating and expanding the city-owned library has increased by nearly $3 million since voters rejected borrowing money for basically the same project in a 2007 referendum.

The architect who designed the 31,000-square-foot library project several years ago recently provided an updated, detailed estimate of the cost of the project, which previously had been pegged at $8.9 million.

Now, some seven years after a referendum on borrowing money to pay for the project failed by 243 votes, the estimated cost has swelled to estimated $11.7 million.

Library supporters hope to knock the cost down 10 percent by coming up with $1.2 million in cost reductions in the project, or finding other ways to pay for some parts of the project.

Friends of Lithgow Library officials have committed to raising at least $3 million for the project, about $2.3 million of which they’ve raised in cash and pledges already.

The city’s commitment would reach $7.5 million, with $7 million coming from a proposed bond that could go to voters for consideration in a June or November referendum. The other $500,000 is tax revenue that councilors already have set aside for the project.

City Manager William Bridgeo said he and Ralph St. Pierre, finance director and assistant city manager, will explore the financial impact of the project and ways it could be funded.

Selling the library to the Friends of Lithgow Library and leasing t back could allow the city to use tax increment financing to help pay for it, Bridgeo said. He said it will take more time to sort through the fiscal implications of paying for the library work, and creative ways to deal with them.

Mayor William Stokes said the library has waited its turn as fundraising took place for other projects in the city, such as the new Cony High School and YMCA, while the building ages and its flaws, including a lack of access for people with disabilities, remain.

“The time to do this is now,” Stokes said. “We’ve delayed it, time and time again, as Lithgow took a backseat because we needed to do one thing at a time. Now is Lithgow’s time. If we don’t do it, we’re at serious risk of losing that building. That’s not exaggerating. We cannot do nothing. We must deal with this.”

Wick Johnson, co-chairman of the fundraising campaign for the project, said the Friends are committed to raising $3 million for the library project.

He said they vow to have $2 million of that available in cash, before work on the library starts. He said they have about $1.3 million in cash now.

The $3 million commitment is $1 million less than their initial $4 million target, but $1.5 million more than the $1.5 million expert consultants told Lithgow supporters they could expect to bring in via fundraising.

Johnson said waiting to get to the initial $4 million goal could end up costing, not saving, money on the project.

“We’re here to talk about saving Lithgow Library,” Johnson said. “Every day the needs get greater and the costs increase.”

Stokes said the city showing support for the project could prompt additional donations. He encouraged anyone who wants to support the project to donate to it, even if they can only afford a small contribution.

Amanda Bartlett, chairwoman of the Friends group, said library usage at Lithgow is at an all time high.

Keith Edwards – 621-5647 kedwards@centralmaine.com