AUGUSTA — The former hospital building on East Chestnut Street, now privately owned and known as the Ballard Center, could be the temporary home for Lithgow Public Library during its upcoming expansion and renovation.

Dirigo Capital Advisors and City Manager William Bridgeo and Ralph St. Pierre, finance director and assistant city manager, have negotiated a proposal to lease 20,000 square feet of the 250,000-square-foot former MaineGeneral Medical Center hospital on the east side of the city to serve as temporary library space while Lithgow undergoes significant work starting as soon as March.

In a memo to councilors, Bridgeo said city staff spent months searching the city for a suitable temporary home for the library. “In the end,” he wrote, “this space was the only available property that met our needs at a price we could afford. The convenient location and easy ground floor access make it a most desirable location. Dirigo has offered us a very generous deal.”

Kevin Mattson, president of Hallowell-based Dirigo Capital Advisors, said the annual lease rate of $10.50 per square foot, including heat and electricity, is less than the lease rate for other parts of the building and is meant to cover the costs of having the library there and little else.

“In terms of rent, it is essentially free,” Mattson said. “We built a lease rate which covers the operating costs of having them there and the build-out, which we’ll do. We’re big supporters of the library. We figured this is a good way for us to help out with the (fundraising) campaign. They’re going to love it there. It is nice, it’s convenient, and I think it is going to save them a ton of money.”

Mattson said Dirigo Capital Advisors wanted to participate in efforts to improve the library and decided to offer discounted rent for space to house the library during construction rather than give a cash gift to the fundraising campaign.

Mattson said the going rate for similar space in the building is $16 per square foot, which does not include the cost of building out space for specific uses.

The public library space would include 18,000 square feet in part of what was the hospital’s main lobby just inside the main entrance. The entrance has a covered driveway.

The library would also have about 2,000 square feet of storage space on the lower level of the building, accessible via loading docks, Mattson said.

Details of the deal are still to be finalized and require the approval of city councilors.

Bridgeo said the council will likely discuss it at the Dec. 11 council meeting.

Bridgeo said the city has $600,000 budgeted to pay for the library relocation, including the cost of temporary space. He said as long as moving costs are reasonable, the $600,000 budgeted “will be more than adequate.”

The annual cost of the lease, as proposed, would be $210,000, or a total of $420,000 if the library is there for the full two years. Bridgeo has estimated it will take between 18 months and two years to renovate and expand Lithgow.

Mattson said the Ballard Center building is about 55 percent leased out to tenants, not counting the library space.

Work is underway there now to renovate about 26,000 square feet of space MaineGeneral plans to lease back in the building, starting in March. Eventually, Mattson said, the hospital organization will lease about 65,000 square feet there, consolidating operations now based elsewhere in the area.

MaineGeneral opened a regional hospital in north Augusta last year.

Mattson, who grew up in the area and went to Lithgow Library as a child, said having the library temporarily occupying otherwise leaseable space in the building likely won’t help his business with its efforts to lease out space in the old hospital long-term, but he’s fine with it.

“Immediately, it’s a hindrance (to efforts to find long-term tenants) because we’re bidding two years at no rent, so we’re losing $5 to $6 per square foot” compared with what the space could lease for, he said. “There is not a lot of upside for the building, but that’s OK. We think the library is a positive thing for Augusta. The city has been great. We’ve worked with them for a decade on development of these old hulking facilities, like the commerce center. Augusta has been the best community to develop in, in the state.”

Bridgeo said Stewart Roberts, architect on the library project, recently dropped his estimate of the total cost of the project to $10.77 million, based upon projected savings now that the design of the library is becoming finalized. Previously the library was expected to cost up to $11.7 million.

Bridgeo said that means the $8.57 million available in city money and $2 million in donated money raised by the Friends of Lithgow Library will be sufficient for the project to move forward in the spring, when Bridgeo expects to sign a contract to construct the library and ground to be broken for the project. He noted the Friends also have another $500,000 in pledges committed to the project.

In June, Augusta voters approved by a vote of 2,153 to 461 borrowing $8 million for the project that will nearly triple the size of the city’s historic public library.

Other spots looked at, but rejected, by city officials for the potential temporary location of the library included the vacant former Hannaford building on Willow Street and vacant buildings at the Marketplace at Augusta.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

[email protected]

Twitter: @kedwardskj

Augusta and Waterville news

Get news and events from your towns in your inbox every Friday.


  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.