UNITY — As Melissa Bastien and Jean Bourg work to bring the Unity Public Library to life, they’re deep in the process of outfitting its proposed property with all of the library furnishings necessary to its operation.

The longtime Unity residents and business and life partners purchased the property at 38 School St. with the intention of making it into a public library.

“We’re throwing all the marbles in the ring on this one,” Bastien said from a room to be used for children’s programming in the future. “We’re thinking this is our last big project.”

The general public is allowed access to Unity College’s Quimby Library, but the campus is closed entirely during the 2020-21 academic year. There’s also uncertainty as to what the college’s main campus will look like in the future. A sale of the campus is on the table but is not a done deal.

“We’re feeling a lack of a library since the college closed its campus,” Bourg said. “We’re feeling like we have no idea of the Unity College campus’ future and that of its library.”

The programming, timing and needs of the community do not quite mesh with what the college’s library offers. Bastien and Bourg hope the Unity Public Library will have books, audio books, CDs and DVDs, high-speed internet and access to interlibrary loans and the Maine State Library. They hope the library will host book discussions, book groups, educational exhibits and children’s programs.

As a result of the pandemic, Bastien and Bourg realized the need for the community’s own library. It’s also an opportunity to continue what Bastien calls the town’s “viable resilience.”

“It took a lot of flexibility away from people,” Bastien said. “A lot of people are missing out on programming and all.”

Unity Public Library board member and building co-owner Jean Bourg in the room that will hold the new library’s main collection on Thursday. Bourg purchased the building with Melissa Bastien. The 2,500-square-foot library occupies the first floor of the building. Upstairs is a bed and breakfast. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel Buy this Photo

In recent weeks, more than 100 residents reached out with overwhelming support. Unity resident Alex Koch signed on as a board member for the library. A Pittsfield native and Unity College graduate, and now a master’s student at the college, Koch has called Unity home for 16 years.

A self-described “big book person,” Koch won the 2017 National Collegiate Book Collecting Contest for his work on books about Maine’s woods.

“Literacy is really important to me,” Koch said. “It’s really vital and especially in a rural community where there isn’t particular access to things like a library.”

Bastien, who recently retired from a Head Start program, is all-in on the impact the library could have on local children.

“Early literacy is a huge issue,” Bastien said. “COVID has made us so much more aware of our resources or lack thereof.”

The library property is the third building Bastien and Bourg have co-owned. Bastien and Bourg opened the Copper Heron B&B in 1998 and owned it until 2003. From there, they owned 93 Main Street Coffee Shop until 2019. In December of 2020, they closed on the School Street property.

Built in 2012, the property sits next to the Unity Community Center. The library is already wheelchair accessible and meets the town’s codes. The library section is approximately 2,500 square feet spanning five rooms, including a restroom and small office space.

Jean Bourg, co-owner of the building at 38 School St. in Unity, shows off the second floor bed and breakfast part of the building Thursday. The building will also house the Unity Public Library. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel Buy this Photo

The building owners are offering the entire downstairs of the property for library use at zero cost to the town except for utilities. There will be a memorandum of understanding between the building’s owners and the Unity Public Library nonprofit that the downstairs is available for library usage in perpetuity and also allows the library to move at any time. Because the building is privately owned, property taxes will be paid by the owners. Nonprofit status is secured, but the 501(c)(3) designation remains in the works.

The building has two parts with separate entrances. The parking lot entrance goes to what will be the library’s reception room. The School Street entrance leads to two upstairs apartment suites, which will be used as Airbnbs to pay off the building and related expenses.

The Airbnbs, which will cost between $75-95 per night depending on the circumstances, are being rented for the first time next week. Even when the building is paid off, the one bedroom suites will support the library.

Organizers met with people involved with public libraries in neighboring small towns, such as Liberty and Palermo, learning they all get financial support from the town. Public funding is one of the requirements to become a public library in Maine, along with having a paid part-time librarian, digital library software system, public WiFi, computer usage, and being open at least 12 hours a week.

Organizers wish to utilize TIF funds earmarked for economic development to pay for initial expenses, which would not impact local property taxes. From there, the focus becomes grant writing for additional financial support. Initial expenses include software, technology, furniture and funding for a part-time librarian.

Bourg, also a member of the town’s Economic Development Committee, said the TIF funds expire in 2025. They could use $50,000, but are unsure if that would be TIF eligible. No matter what, they expect to receive a $2,500 grant from the Economic Development Committee.

If all goes well, the Unity Public Library will serve nearby towns such as Thorndike, Troy and Freedom.

“This is a chance to do something big,” Bourg said.

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