From left: Cundy’s Harbor Library Director Heather Logan, board President Linda Prybylo, board Treasurer Rachel Miller and board member Dianne Chilmonczyk enjoy the sun on the library’s new front deck. (DOUG WARREN PHOTO)
Take a precious piece of a small community, polish it up with plenty of volunteer elbow grease, apply an infusion of hard-earned grant money and what have you got?
And that’s what the Cundy’s Harbor Library is becoming today, several years into a pandemic-prolonged renovation project that promises even better things ahead.
Sitting on the library’s newly expanded deck on a recent sunny morning as people wave from cars passing on Cundy’s Harbor Road, it’s hard to disagree with the assessment of Linda Prybylo, president of the library board: “The library is like a front porch for the community.”
With the improvements already made and those still in the works, that key role can only get larger. What started as a project to address drainage issues and improve wheelchair access at the library has grown into an effort to create a real community resource.
“We’re one of only a few fixtures in Cundy’s Harbor that’s open year-round and offers a place to connect with people, in person and online,” said library Director Heather Logan, who took over the position last February.
The project is being funded by donations and with seed money from the Alfred M. Senter and Bailey Family foundations, along with federal funds in the form of two Cumberland County Community Development Block Grants totaling $116,460. The town of Harpswell, which also kicked in $6,000 to help with renovations, played a key role in getting the grants.
“Terri Sawyer at the town office made us aware of the available grants and helped us get the funding we needed to make this renovation possible,” said Dianne Chilmonczyk, the library board member who wrote the lion’s share of the grant applications.
So far, along with the expanded front deck, convenient handicapped parking space and new wheelchair ramp, repairs have been made to the exterior of the building, the landscape has been graded and improved to eliminate flooding, and moisture abatement measures are underway in the basement. Still to come are gutters, window repairs, vinyl siding, interior lighting, electrical upgrades, heat pumps, a new back door and new furniture.
“The library was in need of many repairs and improvements, which were critical to assuring the future availability of this valuable community asset,” said Sawyer, deputy town administrator and treasurer. “The town, in partnership with the library, is committed to seeing these improvements accomplished.”
Beyond the vital grant funding for the project, the ongoing renovations really are a “labor of love,” according to Logan. “The deconstruction in the basement has been done by volunteers,” she said. “And we’ll never be able to thank Duane Webber enough!”
Prybylo estimated that Webber, president and co-owner of R.A. Webber & Sons, which provides septic and construction services in Harpswell and beyond, has donated site work and materials worth more than $27,000.
Webber says he’s been more than happy to help.
“The community has been awful good to us,” Webber said. “This is where we were raised and where we work. It’s a good feeling to be able to give something back. It’s very important for everyone to have a place they can go and get the information they need.”
The Cundy’s Harbor Library has been a labor of love from the beginning.
In January 1958, following the death of Hale Pulsifer, bequests in his memory were placed in a fund to be administered by a board of trustees seeking to establish a library. Planning immediately began to find a suitable site and building.
Richard Hatch agreed to sell, for half-price, a small house on his land on the Cundy’s Harbor Road. Robert Watson and Marian Jordan deeded a parcel of land opposite the old schoolhouse for the site. The building was moved to its present location in October 1959. Volunteer help was employed in constructing the foundation. After that, remodeling progressed rapidly.
The grand opening of the building was held June 30, 1960. A small cannon was fired to let the community know the library was open and functioning.
Today, according to Logan, the library has a collection of 5,301 books, with a particular focus on Maine writers and volumes on the maritime history of the state. It also has free Wi-Fi and a charming children’s room that features a picture-window view of the lovely waterfront park behind the library and the harbor beyond. “They call us ‘the little library with the big view,'” Logan said.
As director, Logan oversees fundraising, outreach, policies and the library’s strategic plan. Assistant Librarian David Perrier checks books out and in, and also offers tech help to patrons during the library’s regular hours: Tuesday and Thursday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Board Treasurer Rachel Miller said the library’s annual budget is $48,000, with $25,000 coming annually from the town and the balance made up from community donations. This year, the library is seeking $35,000 to help extend its hours and make it more user-friendly for families during after-school hours. Plans are also in the works to join the Maine Integrated Library System, which will help expand the library’s offerings through the statewide network.
“Beyond the books, libraries are really about conversations and eliminating isolation,” Miller said.
The COVID-19 pandemic and renovation work have limited access to the library in recent months, but now it is open to the public (although masks are still required) and Prybylo looks forward to the return of popular community events and the completion of the project. “Pre-COVID, our community programming was really popular. We look forward to resuming it when we can,” she said.
Along with the Orr’s Island Library, the Cundy’s Harbor Library draws people from all over Harpswell. Having those kinds of connections in a town sometimes separated by its geography is important. Sawyer said the town’s role in the renovation project has been rewarding.
“It has been a pleasure working with the library’s dedicated volunteers,” she said. “There has been great support for the project, including donated labor, materials and many volunteer hours. Harpswell has many gems, and the Cundy’s Harbor Library is certainly one of them.”
For more information on volunteer opportunities or to donate to the Cundy’s Harbor Library, go to cundysharbor.me or call 207-725-1461.
Doug Warren, of Orr’s Island, retired from a career as an editor at the Portland Press Herald, Miami Herald and Boston Globe. He serves as vice president of the Harpswell News board of directors.