AUGUSTA — Lithgow Public Library got a big check at Thursday’s City Council meeting to help pay for its upcoming renovation and expansion, and it may have a deal in place soon for a temporary home for its books, which librarians and patrons would use when construction gets underway.

Members of the Friends of Lithgow Library formally handed over to the city Thursday night the $2 million the nonprofit organization has raised to help pay for the estimated $11 million renovation, which will nearly triple the size of the city’s historic public library.

City councilors also spoke favorably of a proposed deal negotiated by city administrators to lease part of the former MaineGeneral Medical Center building on East Chestnut Street, now owned by a private development firm that has re-dubbed it the Ballard Center, to provide temporary space for the library during its renovation and expansion.

The Friends of Lithgow Library presented a giant, fake $2 million check to councilors Thursday representing the money the group had raised. City Manager William Bridgeo said the group has also provided the actual money raised to the city, and it already has been deposited.

“This seems like a milestone for the city and library,” said Elizabeth Pohl, library director, noting the project is the result of 18 years of planning and study. “This will be only the second time Lithgow Library has been modified since the original structure (was built) in 1896. It’s amazing to me, these last four or five years, we’ve made connections in the community and put together a dynamic capital campaign that has reaped great rewards.”

Councilors also discussed a proposal to provide a place for the library to continue operating while the construction project is underway.

Dirigo Capital Advisors, 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 hospital on the east side of the city to serve as temporary library space.

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 company’s costs of having the library there and little else.

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.

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.

“We believe they’ve offered us great terms, well below market, and we’ve been recommending approval of that lease agreement,” Bridgeo said.

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

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

The deal is likely to go to councilors for a vote at their next business meeting on Dec. 18.

Bridgeo said a Portland attorney, not city attorney Stephen Langsdorf, reviewed the proposed lease for the city. That’s because Langsdorf works for the law firm of Preti Flaherty, and Severin Beliveau, a partner in that firm, is a principal in Dirigo Capital Advisors.

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 proposed lease would turn the space in the Ballard Center building over to the city April 1, 2015. The lease is for 18 months, but the city could extend it, month to month, with 30 days’ written notice.

Bridgeo has estimated it will take 18 months to two years to renovate and expand Lithgow.

The annual cost of the lease, as proposed, would be $210,000, or a total of $315,000 for the 18-month term. It could cost up to $420,000 if the library is there for a full two years.

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

MaineGeneral opened a regional hospital in north Augusta last year.

In June, Augusta voters approved by a vote of 2,153-461 borrowing $8 million for the library project.

Other spots looked at, but rejected, by city officials for the potential temporary location of the library included the vacant former Hannaford supermarket building on Willow Street. Bridgeo said that building wasn’t selected in part because of concerns about the building’s condition and the projected cost of making it ready to use. The building has been vacant since 2009, when Hannaford opened a new supermarket just off Cony Circle between Stone and Cony streets.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

[email protected]

Twitter: @kedwardskj


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