2016-09-02 / Front Page

Door opens for library expansion

Renovations had closed former main entrance for 28 years
Wm. Duke Harrington Staff Writer


Former First Lady Laura Bush (center) cuts the ribbon at the front door of the Louis T. Graves Memorial Public Library in Kennebunkport, Aug. 19, flanked by George Emery, chairman of the Mothers Wing Capital Campaign, and Library Director Mary-Lou Boucouvalas. The door, unused since a 1988 renovation, will again become the main entrance following a new $1 million makeover. (Courtesy photo) Former First Lady Laura Bush (center) cuts the ribbon at the front door of the Louis T. Graves Memorial Public Library in Kennebunkport, Aug. 19, flanked by George Emery, chairman of the Mothers Wing Capital Campaign, and Library Director Mary-Lou Boucouvalas. The door, unused since a 1988 renovation, will again become the main entrance following a new $1 million makeover. (Courtesy photo) KENNEBUNKPORT — Although a $1 million capital campaign began in June, the door truly opened on plans to remake the Louis T. Graves Memorial Public Library in Kennebunkport this past week, with help from former First Lady Laura Bush.

At a special ceremony Friday, Aug. 19, Bush opened the library’s front door for the first time since 1988 and cut the ribbon formally putting it back into use. The door had been shut when a prior renovation moved the main library entrance to a side door.

Following construction of a new “Mothers Wing,” which aims to double the library’s floor space, the old front door will again become the public’s primary entry point into the century-old structure.


A computer rendering shows how Louis T. Graves Memorial Public Library in Kennebunkport is expected to look after addition of the new Mothers Wing to the rear of the historic building, as part of a $1 million makeover. (Courtesy image) A computer rendering shows how Louis T. Graves Memorial Public Library in Kennebunkport is expected to look after addition of the new Mothers Wing to the rear of the historic building, as part of a $1 million makeover. (Courtesy image) “I’m a former librarian so you might guess that libraries have a very special place in my heart,” Bush said. “Libraries are the souls of communities. We meet here to socialize, discover new adventures, learn and relax, and to teach our children and grandchildren the value and joy of learning.”

Dubbed the Mothers Wing in honor of all mothers who have utilized the library’s services over the past 100 years to encourage their children to read, the new wing, added to the rear of the existing library, will include an elevator to aid handicapped access and updates to aging infrastructure, in addition to providing new floor space for programming and materials.

“In this digital age, some may feel that libraries are losing their place in our community, but I believe that we need public libraries now more than ever, and I’m happy that the Graves Library is serving more patrons now than ever,” Bush said. “Libraries are vital resources — one of the few public places available to interact with your neighbors and to enjoy the very best of your community and the world of reading.”

In honor of the area’s shipbuilding past, retired U.S. Navy Vice Admiral George Emery of Sanford, a member of the library’s board of trustees, has agreed to served as chairman of the Mothers Wing Capital Campaign.

“The Graves Library has served as an educational, social, and cultural center of our town for over a century, yet it has been over 30 years since the library has sought community support for a capital campaign,” he said. “Increased use has brought challenges in finding space to meet our growing needs. In addition, the library is a 19th century building that requires major updating. The Mothers Wing Capital Campaign addresses these needs, which includes replacing the heating and air conditioning systems.

Located at 18 Maine St., the library building began life in 1813 as the Kennebunk Bank — today, the old bank vault hosts a collection of newspapers. It then served from 1831 to 1913 as the U.S. Customs House for the area.

In 1898, The Kennebunkport Free Library, founded four years earlier by Anne Talbot, moved into the second floor of the customs building. In 1916, the Kennebunkport Public Library Association was formed, absorbing Talbot’s collection and taking over the entire building upon dissolution of the local customs district.

At first, only renting the building from the federal government, the deed came in 1921 when Mr. and Mrs. Abbott Graves bought and gave the building to the association. The only condition they gave was that the library be renamed for their son, Louis T. Graves, a World War I reporter who died in the influenza pandemic of that era.

In 1998, a decade after its last major upgrade, the library acquired the Perkins House, a residential home located behind the old bank building. It’s been used to house the library’s ongoing used book sale, which accounts for nearly 20 percent of its annual revenue, while municipal departments and cribbage clubs have used the balance of the lower floor for meetings.

Last year, a room on the second floor of the Perkins House also became studio space for Graves Library’s first writer-in-residence, Bridget M. Burns.

But, as part of the renovation, the Perkins House is scheduled for demolition.

“With the increased use of the library, especially over the past six years, and the tight quarters of the main building, as well as ongoing mold issues with the Perkins House, the board of trustees recommended that the house be removed and the footprint incorporated with an addition to the main Library. This will help alleviate inefficiencies and crowding and accommodate projected growth,” library director Mary-Lou Boucouvalas wrote in a booklet announcing the new project.

According to the project brochure, circulation at the Graves Library, tracked at 66,794 items loaned in 2014, is expected to grow to 72,000 annually by 2018, while the library collection is predicted to grow from 34,947 items to more than 38,000.

But libraries are not longer mere repositories for books, and the real growth these days is in programming. In 2014, 4,220 people participated in 261 cultural events sponsored by the library. That is expected to climb to 625 programs by 2018, serving more than 7,800 people, while public meetings held at the library should bourgeon from 77 two years ago to more than 200 two years from now.

Meanwhile, the library continues to connect locals to the wider world, as it always has, just directly these days, though the World Wide Web.

In 2014 3,229 people used the library’s public internet connections, and 562 took advantage of the Wi-Fi service. By 2018, that’s expected to grow to 5,500 and 2,500, respectively.

Despite a taste for the modern in terms of access to information, the library itself, listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 1974, will retain its classic feel.

“We recognize that the library is a signature structure in the towns of Kennebunk and Kennebunkport,” Emery said. “As a result, we have worked closely with an architect who specializes in historic structures to ensure that we preserve the character of this classic building while providing library users with an expanded and fully updated facility.”

Earlier this month, the Kennebunkport Planning Board approved the library’s expansion plans, submitted by South Portland-based engineering firm Sebago Technics. Work on the new Mothers Wing is scheduled to begin late this fall.

The new 4,500-square-foot Mothers Wing will nearly double the usable space now available in the Perkins House on roughly the same 30-by-50-foot outline.

Once work in complete, the first floor of the Mothers Wing will house new administrative and service areas, including some non-fiction racks, as well as a warming kitchen and break area for staff and Americans with Disabilities Act compliant restrooms, plus an elevator, new mechanical room, coat racks and storage and a new sprinkler system.

The second floor will host a large multi-function open area able to accommodate about 150 people for events or movies, using a drop-down screen. Retractable dividing walls will be installed to divide the room for smaller group meetings, or private study.

The basement, to be controlled for climate and humidity, will house the ongoing book sale now found at the Perkins House, while long-term goals include possible archival storage space for both the town and Kennebunkport Historical Society.

The library’s current office area will be redesigned to create a new study and computer services room, freeing up computer access areas on the second floor for expansion of children’s programs, as well as the library’s video collection.

Finally, removal of the Perkins House will free up space for parking, which, Boucouvalas said, has always been a challenge, especially in the summer. Up to six additional parking spaces could be added.

According to Boucouvalas, the capital campaign has taken in $528,000 in cash and pledges toward its $1 million goal so far, including one donation of $150,000 and another of $75,000. All funding for removing the Perkins House and putting up the new library wing will come from private, tax-deductible donations.

“No funds for the consolidation will be sought from the town of Kennebunkport,” Boucouvalas said.

As fundraising continues, Boucouvalas notes those who give $100 or more will be recognized on a special donor wall of honor to be installed in the new wing. Meanwhile, anyone who gives $500,000 will get the right to permanently name the new wing in honor of his or her own mother. Naming privileges also are up for grabs for the second floor and its community gathering space (for a $150,000 donation), the first floor non-fiction collection and office area ($150,000), the rare documents vault ($100,000) and the new elevator ($75,000).

In addition to Emery and Boucouvalas, the Mothers Wing Capital Campaign Committee includes Chip Bassett, Tim Dietz, Michelle Dow, Mike Kelly, David Kling, Mary Louise Norton, Anne Raynor, Susan Rouillard, Tom Staley, and Mike Weston.

Staff Writer Duke Harrington can be reached at news@kennebunkpost.com.

Return to top