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Updated: May 16, 2024

$9.1M build-out of Bar Harbor library will double its size

rendering of buildings and people Rendering / Courtesy, Jesup Memorial Library The $9.1 million expansion, shown in a rendering, will modernize the space, increase accessibility, improve technology and expand programming and public meeting spaces.

At Jesup Memorial Library in Bar Harbor, work is underway on a 12,000-square-foot expansion intended to modernize the library, increase accessibility, improve technology and expand programming and public meeting spaces.

With estimated construction costs of $9.1 million, the build-out will double the size of the library. The project is the library’s largest expansion since it was established over a century ago. 

The library is at 34 Mount Desert St., central to downtown commerce to its north and east and adjacent to residential neighborhoods.

“The Jesup is like the living room of the Bar Harbor community — warm, friendly, free and accessible to everyone,” said Jill Goldthwait, a former Bar Harbor town councilor and state legislator. “This expansion is desperately needed and truly demonstrates our community’s commitment to investing in itself.”

The addition will offer new public amenities including a 120-person auditorium; several gathering spaces and meeting rooms; a maker space with sewing machines, 3D printer and new digital media technology; a dedicated space for teens and children; an elevator to make the building fully accessible; and eight stations to create remote work opportunities, thanks to a grant from the Maine State Library.

“Adding more spaces that bring the community together will enhance equity, inclusiveness, and understanding for one another — intangible and invaluable assets to celebrate,” said Jackie Davidson, the executive director of the YWCA, which neighbors the library.

The expansion is part of a $14 million, multiyear, multiphase project that has also included site acquisition for the expansion, demolition and site preparation, and preservation work on the original library, built in 1911. The preservation work included shoring up the foundation, repairing the slate roof and repointing the brickwork.

The expansion broke ground last October, after nearly a decade of planning and fundraising for the project. The architect is Simmons Architects in Portland. The general contractor is E.L. Shea Builders in Ellsworth.

people lined up over shovels
Courtesy / Eager Eye Photography, Jesup Memorial Library
Jesup Memorial Library in Bar Harbor broke ground last fall on a 12,000-square-foot expansion.

Cross-laminated timber

A capital campaign for the project attracted 700 donors who collectively raised over $14 million.

The library also won several state and federal grants, including a $600,000 federal grant from the Northern Border Regional Commission, $600,000 from the Department of Housing and Urban Development and $300,000 from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, all focused on supporting green construction. 

The grants facilitated the use of cross-laminated timber, a sustainable building product sourced from eastern hemlock, making it the first library in the country to use CLT sourced from New England.

Cross-laminated timber is a solid-engineered wood panel that consists of multiple layers of dimensional lumber that is stacked and bonded at a 90-degree angle.

renderg of room with staircase and people
Courtesy / Jesup Memorial Library
The expansion will include a large common space.

“The environmentally conscious design and material will save energy costs, reduce the carbon footprint, and highlight the economic potential of the regional hemlock supply in New England’s forests,” said Shane O’Neill, a forest industry business development manager at the University of Maine.

O'Neill is working to expand awareness of green-building opportunities in Maine and around the country. 

“The opportunity this unlocks for Maine’s forestry industry will be noteworthy, and the Jesup project will serve as an example of what our future can be,” he said.

Surge of users

The library serves a year-round community of 5,000 residents; 79% of the year-round population are cardholders.

The population swells to between 20,000 and 30,000 seasonal residents and visitor, resulting in increased demands on library services.

A day at the Jesup during peak season includes local families, summer residents, weekly vacationers, campers, cruise ship visitors and students who access traditional services plus resources such as internet access, printing and copying, restrooms, wayfinding, live programs and research help. 

Since the pandemic, circulation and programming have doubled, and there has been a 43% increase in use of remote workstations.

Jesup employs 7.9 full-time equivalent staffers and expects to increase that to 9.3 by 2026.

The library will remain open to the public during construction, which is expected to be complete the summer of 2025.

Jesup is one of Maine’s 142 private nonprofit libraries, a model that leverages funds from the municipality and also from philanthropic efforts. Private nonprofit libraries often cost communities less than exclusively town-funded libraries due to the dual funding sources.

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