KITTERY, Maine - If voters in November approve a $5 million bond referendum for the Rice Public Library renovation and expansion project, the town will still remain well below its total debt maximum, Town Manager Kendra Amaral told the Town Council Monday.

After receiving a formal presentation on the current state of the proposed library design, and a review of the work done since 2017, councilors scheduled a public hearing for their Aug. 12 meeting, at which time members of the public will be able to speak for or against seeing the significant project on the ballot in November.

Following the hearing, the Town Council will decide whether or not to move the referendum forward to the election.

A 15,000 square-foot renovation and addition has been designed by Scott Simons Architects and Lassel Architects, both selected by the town earlier this year to kick start the schematic phase of the project, for which the Town Council fronted $100,000.

Since, the architects have worked closely with the town's Library Building Committee, one of three committees formed after an overwhelming majority of voters in 2017 chose a rehabilitation and addition option of a non-binding referendum question asking what Kittery should do with the library. The two other committees were charged with handling the library’s transition from a nonprofit to a town department and the disposition of the Taylor Building.

“We have found the town of Kittery to be most engaged and passionate about the library,” said Scott Simons, of Scott Simons Architects. “There was tremendous consensus that this building was of extreme importance to the town, and spoke a lot to the history of the town.”

Simons further detailed the various stakeholders the design team has collected input from, including library staff, its board, the town’s schools, the Kittery Community Center, Foreside Business Group, teen users, and then at three events; two community meetings and the Kittery Block Party.

Simons said the expansion as proposed “most precisely meets the needs of the community today and going forward.” The addition, he said, which will come in around 10,000 square-feet, will compliment the original, historic structure, and bring the entire property “into the 21st century.”

The plan triples the amount of available programming space, Simons said.

Ryan Kanteres, of Scott Simons Architects, went through the proposed interior design, which includes opening up mostly all of the first floor for public use, children’s programming on an upper floor, and spaces for community events and technology.

A large "children's garden" will remain outside the original structure.

Currently, the design team is reviewing materials for the addition, including copper, metal cladding, brick and limestone. “We are still in this place where we’re refining what the final materials selections are and the scales,” Kanteres said. “We are at the point of finalizing the schematic design.”

Amaral addressed the financing of the project, which has been on a strict $5 million budget since the start of the process. The town of Kittery, she said, has conservative debt policies compared to the state. For example, the town’s total debt cannot not exceed 2.5 percent of the total property valuation. The state law says 15 percent.

“Our policies keep us constricted on what we can do for debt,” Amaral said. “If the town was to approve a $5 million bond, it would put us up to about 1.7 percent based on today’s valuation.”

Amaral said the design team and Library Building Committee are confident “current cost estimates will get us well within that ballpark.”

The $5 million includes everything, Amaral said; construction, furniture, fixtures, technology, miscellaneous soft costs, bond issuance and owners’ contingency.

“We didn’t want this to create a massive financial spike for the town,” Amaral said, noting the town’s Capital Improvement Program has been planning for it over the last two years. “It’s very manageable.”

Work is already underway to apply for grants and seek private donations, but Amaral said those funds wouldn't go towards the $5 million, and rather, serve as “enhancements.” The town wouldn’t want to depend on a donation that ultimately doesn’t come in, she said.

Amaral said if the town approves the project, she will seek a 20-year bond. The plan calls for the final design to be developed by Feb. 2020, and occupancy and ribbon cutting by November 2021.

“This is a pretty exciting design and pretty exciting process,” Amaral said.

Town Council Chairwoman Judy Spiller added, “I know there are some of us in this room who thought this could never happen. I love the design.”