WINSLOW — Officials are wondering whether the town government should continue to own the old public library building on Lithgow Street or try to sell it.

Officials also say the 84-year-old building desperately needs repairs to its flat roof. Members of the Town Council agreed last week to talk about the building’s ownership later on, even as they authorized the town to spend $15,000 on roof repairs.

For the last nine years, the building at 10 Lithgow St. has been occupied by the nonprofit Taconnett Falls Chapter of the Maine Genealogical Society, which leases the building for $1 per year.

Society members said this spring they had more than a dozen buckets set up inside the building to catch the dribble of leaking water from snow melt on the roof.

“It’s a beautiful building,” said society member Bob Chenard. “The building is worth saving.”

But some town councilors aren’t so sure about that. Amid talk of the building’s roof, councilor Ken Fletcher asked whether the council had ever discussed the building’s ownership future. The council had not, said Town Manager Michael Heavener.

Councilors ultimately agreed that, even if the town eventually tried to sell the building, fixing the leaky roof is an immediate need that would have to be done anyway. Councilors authorized Heavener to hire a roofing company to do the job to avoid water damage and preserve the integrity of the building.

“Besides, if the council decides to sell the building, having a new roof will be a plus,” Heavener said.

Chenard and the society’s vice president, Fred Clark, hope that town officials ultimately decide against selling the building. The society barely scrapes together enough money from members and fundraisers to pay the annual fuel and utility bills for the building, they said, and the society wouldn’t be able to afford owning the building.

If the old library is sold to someone else, it will essentially spell the end for the Winslow-based chapter, they said. But they doubt the building, built in 1927, could be sold.

Town records list its assessed value at $238,400.

“I don’t know who would ever buy it,” Clark said. “Probably not too many people want a library building. It’s got 18-foot ceilings and is basically set up for a library. It would take quite a bit of work to change it.”

Winslow’s library was organized in 1910 and the first public library building on Lithgow Street was built in 1926-27. It served as the public library until the destructive flood of 1987 washed water onto the upper floor. The library relocated to a former skating rink on Halifax Street.

After that, the Lithgow Street building was used by its next-door neighbor, the Winslow Congregational Church, for its Sunday School classrooms.

When the church no longer needed the space, the genealogical society moved into the building in 2002 after having much smaller quarters on the bottom floor of The Center in downtown Waterville.

Now, the 75-member society occupies the whole building with its shelves of historical records and books — town reports, obituaries, cemetery records, databases and other ancestral resources.

Heavener, in a memo to the Town Council recently, said the town’s capital planning committee concluded the library “is only of historical importance to the town, because it does not serve a municipal purpose.”

In 2009, the town completed roof work on the building in the hopes of extending its life by another five to 10 years. But the subsurface of the roof remains in poor conditions, leading to multiple leaks.

“We drilled a test hole into it and the decking was saturated,” Clark said. “It’s been leaking pretty badly.”

Clark and Chenard said they hope that town officials will realize the value in preserving the building and the society’s free services to the public.

“It’s perfect for us; it’s been a godsend,” Chenard said. “And it’s the nicest facility of any genealogical library in the state of Maine. If they sell it, it would kill the library. There’s no other place we could put it.”

Scott Monroe — 861-9239

[email protected]


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