Advice to Rockport leaders: Go slow, offer distinct library proposals to citizens
A proposal to build a new $4 million library in Rockport Village failed by nine votes at the Nov. 8 polls, and now the town must readdress a glaring problem. The library collection and staff is currently housed in temporary quarters in leased Route 1 space, and the existing library sits unoccupied, unheated and without maintenance — a dark building on the corner of Limerock, Central and Union streets.
Monday evening, at a regularly scheduled Select Board meeting, Rockport resident Joan Welsh advised the town approach the problem slowly, with full transparency.
“Think about your fiduciary and moral authority,” Welsh said, speaking to the five Select Board members seated in the downstairs meeting room of the Rockport Opera House.
Welsh was, and remains, a member of the library’s capital fundraising committee, which had been created to raised $2 million-plus from private donors for the public-private venture of building a new library. The voters had been asked at the polls to bond $2 million for the $4 million project.
“It was a close vote, and like the country and state, we are divided, half and half,” said Welsh.
She suggested the board use the opportunity now to “look at all the possibilities of the last five years and spend time to get a good sense of where people are, and more than that, [define] what the real possibilities are.”
The Select Board will meet with the Rockport Library Committee Nov. 30, at 7 p.m., at the Rockport Opera House Meeting Room, and will be streamed at livestream.com/Rockportmaine for the next-steps discussion.
Welsh proposed the town now flesh out the three opportunities that have emerged over the years: Renovating the existing building, building a new library on the existing site, and building a new library on the former Rockport Elementary School site, which the town owns. That site is on the corner of West and Commercial (Route 1) streets.
The reasons are many that voters defeated the new library proposal. She said, 1,200 voted for it, and 1,209 voted against it. Some said it was too big, others said it was too small. Some wanted it RES, others thought it was unattractive. Others cited parking issues.
“There are so many variables,” Welsh said.
She was skeptical about the idea of the board taking another speaking tour of the town; e.g., holding listening sessions in the five villages and neighborhoods that comprise Rockport.
She said the town needs to obtain thorough cost estimates of each alternative, with distinct proportions, and the idea that each proposal could get scaled down from the 9,000 square feet that was put before voters.
Welsh asked to put all three proposals before voters, rather than a yes and no proposal.
“What about ranked choice voting on our library,” she asked. “As a community, we don’t have a clear message about what our good people want.”
She reported that the fundraising committee had raised $240,000 in pledges, and was ready to raise more.
“We are on hold,” she said. “If we resurrected the existing plan in some way, there would be a lot of energy.”
She said there might be similar energy with the RES site, but not so much energy for renovating the existing building.
Rockport resident Sally Cook said she agreed with Welsh on many points, including that there had been no clear vote about all of the options.
But Cook said she wasn’t convinced that the old library could not resurrected or redeemable.
Engineers did not, she said, analyze fully the air quality and foundation work of the existing library.
She said there was an overwhelming vote against moving the library to RES two years ago.
Cook said putting all three options before voters would be a good idea.
As the Select Board then began discussing the pros and cons of multiple options before voters, Chairman Bill Chapman said, “Let’s hold that question to the conversation.”
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