Computer use drives $1.7 million library expansion

14 years ago

Computer use drives

$1.7 million library expansion

By Scott Mitchell Johnson

Staff Writer

‘The taxpayers of the city are going to get the addition

plus an elevator for less than it would have cost

just to put an elevator in this old building.’
– Kevin Sipe, chair of the Mark & Emily Turner Memorial Library board

Staff photo/Scott Mitchell Johnson

A GROUND-BREAKING CEREMONY was recently held at the Mark & Emily Turner Memorial Library in Presque Isle where an expansion project is under way. Not only does the project call for an additional 5,700 square feet with an elevator, but the older systems will be upgraded, as well. Attending the ceremony were, from left: Elaine Sipe, treasurer of the library’s board of trustees; Haley Johnston, board member; Kevin Sipe, board chair; Sonja Plummer-Morgan, librarian; Gail Roy, board member; and Paul Hamlin, board secretary. The building project is made possible in large part by a $1 million donation by Mary Barton Akeley Smith of California, who has ties to the area.

PRESQUE ISLE – A building project that will not only expand the Mark & Emily Turner Memorial Library but also make it handicapped accessible is under way.

“The project calls for 5,700 square feet of expansion with an elevator, and rehabilitating the older systems in the building such as air conditioning,” said Librarian Sonja Plummer-Morgan, noting that crews began work Oct. 25.

“The rehabilitated space will include a teen section, hopefully a local history room, and a lab area for more computers,” she said.

The bulk of the $1.7 million project will be paid with a gift from Mary Barton Akeley Smith of California.

Smith’s ties to the area date back to the early days of the library when her grandmother, Beulah Barton Akeley, served as librarian from 1932-45. Her father, Robert V. Akeley, was born and raised in Presque Isle and graduated from the University of Maine at Presque Isle, before moving the family to Spring, Md., where he served as leader of the Potato Investigation Crop Research Division. Her mother, Hope Greenlaw Akeley, was born and raised in Masardis, attended Ricker Classical Institute and Aroostook State Normal School and taught school in Portage Lake, Spragueville and in Maryland.

Rodney Smith, her husband, was born in Oldham, England, and educated as an electrical engineer in the British Army, then moved to the U.S. — first to New York and then to California. He worked for Fairchild Semiconductor and then became the first chief executive officer of Altera Corp., a semiconductor company that specializes in programmable logic. He was killed while riding his bicycle in 2007.

Smith is retired and lives in California near Stanford University with her two dogs. She has two sisters, a stepdaughter and a step-granddaughter.

Plummer-Morgan said Smith visited the area last year, and stopped by to use a library computer.

“It was during that stop that she made the decision to donate a large sum toward our renovation project,” she said, “which had been under development and planned since the late 1990s.

“Right now we’re not meeting the needs of our computer users; there’s a long wait line. This expansion will help take care of that problem,” said Plummer-Morgan. “We’re also not meeting the needs for our social gathering places. Our events are generally standing room only and this project is going to really increase the amount of people we can safely have in the building. It depends on the type of furniture we buy, but we think we’ll double our capacity for people.”

The renovation will also provide space for adult learners, which, according to Plummer-Morgan, has also been deficient.

Kevin Sipe, chair of the library board, said the project will also make the library more energy efficient.

“We’re going to replace all the windows,” he said, “and we hope to save a lot of money in heating. By replacing the windows and becoming more energy efficient, we’ll be able to keep our existing boiler without having to put in a new boiler with the new addition. All the ceilings will be replaced because they’re putting in a sprinkler for the first time, all new floors, and we’ll have a lot more new space. For instance, the stairwell that leads to the bottom floor will no longer be a stairwell. It will be added space on this floor and the floor above. We’re actually gaining space.

“The energy efficient components were an optional bid item and we looked at how much it would cost to do those and whether or not we could pay those costs back through energy savings over the years, and we can,” said Sipe. “The bid came in low enough that we can actually do it and pay that back without any increase in taxes. The taxpayers of the city are going to get the addition plus an elevator for less than it would have cost just to put an elevator in this old building.”

In addition to Smith’s $1 million gift, the city of Presque Isle contributed $240,000 while the library’s board of trustees put in $250,000.

Calvin Hall, vice chair of the Presque Isle City Council, called the facility upgrade a “wonderful opportunity.”

“This expansion is incredibly important for the city of Presque Isle. The Council has known for many years now that we needed to address handicap accessibility issues here at the library. That – coupled with the incredible work that Sonja [Plummer-Morgan] has done to increase the usage of the library – it became evident we needed to do something sooner rather than later,” he said. “When the opportunity came with the donation from Mary Smith, it really was a no-brainer for us to commit the amount of city funds that we needed to do that which would have had to go to upgrading the facility anyway.

“We have a number of projects that need to be done; the library had always been put on the back burner, but with the significant donation that was made, it made it a much bigger priority for us,” said Hall. “We look forward to the expansion and increased usage of the library.”

Plummer-Morgan said while the renovation/expansion has always been needed, the city had to wait until the appropriate funds were in place.

“The plans had been in place and a lot of work had been done to address surveys, space needs, building needs, and ADA needs, but we were waiting for the funding,” she said. “We really needed for funding to be put into place before we could make it a reality and Mary Smith’s gift made it a reality.

“Her donation served as a springboard for others in the community,” said Plummer-Morgan. “There have been many, many community members who have stepped up and made donations, too.”

Plummer-Morgan said once the expansion project is complete, it will validate all the hard work that has gone into the planning process.

“There have been many people throughout the years who have worked on this project, and scores of people who have either sat on committees, volunteered, or offered their expertise in one way or another,” she said. “They may not be standing with us today, but they were very much a part of that plan.”

The project is expected to be completed by next fall; however, Plummer-Morgan said the work could be completed as early as July. J.P. Martin & Sons of Caribou is the building contractor.