AUBURN – Councilors agreed to borrow $3.5 million to pay the city’s share of the Auburn Public Library expansion Monday.

“You have to support something like this,” Councilor Bob Mennealy said. “Voting against would be like voting against apple pie.”

More than 60 turned out to urge councilors to support the library project, a $7 million expansion scheduled to begin next spring. They included school children, former and current library board members and former Mayor Lee Young.

The library began planning the expansion in 1998, according to Director Rosemary Waltos. The library board approached the City Council back then to request money for expansion. Councilors responded by challenging the library to fund half the work through donations.

“That has happened,” Waltos said. “We have had more than 1,400 private donors put in money for this. Every school student in Auburn has participated. We have had incredible support from the community.”

Development Director Barbara Trafton said the library has actually raised $3.5 million, including $780,000 in grants from national foundations.

“So now, we are asking the city to approve a $3.5 million bond to pay for the rest of this expansion,” Waltos said.

City Manager Pat Finnigan said the bond would be spread out over 20 years. The city would make its first debt payments on the bond in 2005 – $150,000 out of the total $9.5 million in debt payments scheduled for that year.

That was too much for some people. Ron Potvin of 11 Oak St. urged councilors to vote against the bond.

“I don’t oppose the expansion,” Potvin said. “I think it’s a great idea, and a great way to educate our children. But I question whether it is necessary to do it at this time.”

Potvin said he feared the debt would hurt the city’s legal position in labor negotiations. The city is in contract negotiations with the Auburn Police union and fighting a lawsuit for wages against the Auburn Firefighters union.

“I think it’s amazing that now is the time we have to consider a $3.5 million bond,” Potvin said. “I think it could hurt our position in our case against the firefighters union since we have been claiming financial difficulties. But somehow we have enough to borrow for a library.”

Dave Rowell of 95 Monroe St. agreed.

“I’m all for the library, all for education and all the right things they represent,” Rowell said. “I still think it’s reasonable to delay this.”

That sentiment shocked former Mayor Young.

“I didn’t anticipate that anybody here would be doing anything but clapping and saying ‘Good for us!'” she said. “This is a momentous night for the city.”

Councilors agreed. They voted unanimously to pass the issue on first reading, then voted 5-2 to suspend their rules and vote on it again Monday night. Then, they voted 6-1 to approve it on second reading. Only Councilor Mennealy voted against it the second time, saying the city should give the public time to react.

According to plans, the library will renovate the existing building and expand to the area currently home to the Auburn City Building. The City Building will be torn down and city offices are scheduled to move to Auburn Hall, at Court Street and Mechanics Row, next year.

The library plans to relocate to the Chamberlain School next year, after the Auburn School District has relocated to its new space in Auburn Hall. That will be the library’s temporary home until 2005 when the expanded library opens.

Trafton said the library will celebrate the end of its capital campaign all day Wednesday. Library staffers will be hosting special programs at the current building all day beginning at 9 a.m. The library will be hosting a reception at 7 p.m. at Hilton Garden Inn for those who helped pay for the the library’s terra cotta mural. Gov. John Baldacci is expected to be on hand for that reception, Trafton said.


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