U.S. Sen. Susan Collins (left) takes a look at the collection of books alongside Librarian Julie Buhler Monday morning at the Lumberman's Museum in Patten. Collins was instrumental in securing $3.9 million in federal funding for the creation of a new public library in Patten. Credit: Joseph Cyr / Houlton Pioneer Times

PATTEN, Maine — Federal funding of $3.9 million will move the town of Patten halfway toward its goal of a new library and community center.

The money was secured for the Friends of Veterans’ Memorial Library as part of a 2023 agriculture appropriations bill, but the town needs to raise additional funds before the project breaks ground.

The town wants to buy land at the corner of U.S. Route 11 and the Scribner Road to construct a 12,000-square-foot building that will become not only a repository for books but a community gathering site. The building is expected to cost around $8 million. U.S. Sen. Susan Collins praised the town during a visit Monday for thinking outside the box to create a unique public space.

“One reason I was so happy to sponsor this request is because you have come up with a reimagining of what a library should be for a town,” Collins said. “You have come up with a concept that not only incorporates the traditional notion of library as a place you can come and borrow books, but you are going way beyond that. You are making it a community center.”

Collins, a senior member of the Senate Appropriations Committee and one of the key figures in securing the funds, met with Patten officials to discuss plans for the new building.

Some of the books and artifacts on display at the Lumberman’s Museum in Patten, January 2023. Credit: Joseph Cyr / Houlton Pioneer Times

Patten’s town library was built in 1848 as a United Baptist Church in 1848 and was signed over to the town on Jan. 1, 1928, to become the library. The building served the community for 92 years until the town closed it on Oct. 7, 2020.

According to a survey conducted by the Maine Municipal Association, the building was not up to code and had several deficiencies, such as faulty electrical equipment, lack of handicapped-accessible bathrooms, and anomalies in the structural integrity of the building.

Rae Bates, a Patten selectperson and member of the library board of trustees, said the building’s foundation was severely compromised, making it difficult to refurbish the existing building. In addition, a large number of books were found to have mold, with many needing to be discarded. Those that could be salvaged were properly cleaned, she said.

“We are not going to close the library, because we all know that if the library closes, we will never have another one,” Bates said.

The library’s collection was relocated to the Lumberman’s Museum at 61 Shin Pond Road.

Despite space limitation, the library provides National Digital Equity courses and trains volunteers through Educate Maine and Maine Math Science Alliance to offer coding as an after-school and/or summer program. In addition, the library established an electronic library card system.

Before any groundbreaking work can be done, however, the town must come up with 45 percent in matching funds, Bates said.

“We have some work to do,” Bates said. “There are some places where we can seek additional funding.”

The library will continue at the museum until a new facility is built.

The Friends of Veterans’ Memorial Library  already have plans for the library’s permanent home to better serve the community. The new facility will provide more computer workshops for all ages and will offer outdoor equipment such as mountain bikes, skis and snowshoes to residents and visitors.  

The group also hopes to host nutrition and cooking classes to youth to teach healthy habits.

She added that the creation of a new library would have a generational impact for the community.

“This [new building] will be transformational for our community,” Bates said. “We cannot begin to imagine what this new building can bring to our town. It is more than the concept of a library. It is a place for our children or our elderly. It is an information center where we can offer courses.”

Collins said libraries have always played a special role in her life, starting at a very young age. Her great-aunt was the librarian in Caribou for many years, and Collins worked at the Caribou library, reading to children during story hours.

“The Friends of Veterans’ Memorial Library are spearheading a tremendous project to reimagine the town’s library to serve the needs of Patten and the surrounding region in the 21st century.,” Collins said.

By building on the library’s core function as a book lender, offering computer literacy and workforce development programs, and serving residents and visitors of all ages, the project will help strengthen and grow the community, she said.

This architectural design shows blueprint for where the proposed new library for the town of Patten could be located. The town hopes to build an entirely new property at the corner of U.S. Route 11 and Scribner Street.  Credit: Joseph Cyr / Houlton Pioneer Times