FRYEBURG, Maine — Selectmen unanimously approved on Sept. 26 a broad proposal from the Fryeburg Public Library to turn the former registry of deeds building at 510 Main St. into a media center.
Librarian Jennifer Spofford proposed the library takeover of the former registry building, which sits mere feet from the library, and pay for its renovation with grant funding, with construction beginning next summer.
The plan is in the early stages and seeks to incorporate a media center with computer stations and meeting/study space.
The “non-historic portion of the building,” added at the back of the building in the 1990s, is proposed to be demolished for the construction of a patio and possible garden space, “which would complement the existing library plantings and allow for outdoor enjoyment.”
The proposal leaves room for flexibility and could benefit the town by preserving the vault that stores the town’s historical documents, library representatives said.
The brick registry was built in 1801 and was the first Registry of Deeds in western Oxford County.
In May, the historical society chose to withdraw from its agreement with the town to purchase the building for $1 after renovating the building was deemed too costly.
Spofford said she and new Town Manager Katie Haley have been looking at historic building and library grants to help pay for the building’s conversion.
“We’re always brainstorming, and we’re just basically looking for that next step to where we can go ahead and get some quotes to see what we need to do ... and then we can start the grant search,” Spofford said.
Potential grants under consideration include the Maine Community Foundation, Davis Family Foundation and Stephen and Tabitha King Foundation.
A project timeline includes an RFP with a deadline of late fall. The goal is to complete some construction by next summer.
“This may be an aggressive schedule that will need some room for latitude,” Spofford said.
Selectmen's chair Tom Klinepeter called the timeline “super aggressive.”
Spofford’s proposal seeks a general RFP issued by the town to request quotes for renovation.
The idea of keeping it a general RFP is to “give contractors an opportunity to add their ideas and personal touches to the proposed project,” according to the proposa. This, it said, “will provide a baseline for seeking funding options.”
Repairs outlined include structural repairs for safety, “historically minded” improvements to the brick walls and roof exterior, window replacement, rear demolition/filling, and interior upgrades such as flooring, painting and electrical and heating.
Klinepeter asked if anyone had checked with the state to see if the back portion could be demolished.
Spofford said part of the process will be to check if it can be razed, and if it can’t, to see how it could be renovated and used as well.
“The vision is obviously negotiable,” she said.
Klinepeter asked how it would impact the library’s staffing.
Spofford said the goal is to get an estimate on the cost of renovation and then see “if it’s actually worth the trouble” after all the costs are figured in.
Spofford said there are also grants to pay for staffers.
Selectman Jim Dutton said he does not want to spend taxpayer money on the building and said tearing down the whole building may be a cheaper option.
According to his research, a building on the registry of historic places can be demolished if there is no “useful purpose for it.”
Selectman Tom Kingsbury said the building’s current useful purpose is to hold the town’s historical documents in its vault.
However, Kingsbury also came out against spending town money on the project.
Klinepeter said an engineering study to renovate the building is now out of date as about 10 years have passed since it was last analyzed.
He also said the town or another organization may have to put in seed money to apply for grants, as with “a lot of these grants, you need to have a seed.”
Resident Dick Krasker asked if the main library and registry buildings could be connected.
Spofford said since the project is in the early stages, she could not answer that question.
Krasker also asked if there was an estimate on operating costs to run the renovated registry building, “because that’s going to be on the town.”
“I agree with Jim,” added Krasker. “The taxpayers are not looking for new ways to be spending their money.”
“We just want to see how much this thing is going to cost and see if it’s worth it,” Spofford said.
Voting in favor were selectmen Richard Murray, Klinepeter, Kinsbury and Dutton. Selectmen's Vice Chair Kimberly Clarke was absent.