Rockport committee to narrow field of library architects Wednesday

Posted:  Tuesday, March 22, 2016 - 9:30pm
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ROCKPORT — Six architectural firms spent almost an hour each last week presenting ideas for how Rockport might site and build a new library on its current lot, or in a nearby park. The town’s ad hoc library planning committee listened to all of them,  and on Wednesday, March 23, they are due to decide on which firm, or firms, they will recommend to the Select Board to retain and help with the project.

The meeting will begin at 11 a.m. in the Richardson Room at the Rockport Town Office. Although it is a public meeting, there will be no public comment, nor will the meeting be televised or digitally archived. The latter is intentional, for Committee Chairman Jan Rosenbaum wants committee members to express themselves freely, without worrying about microphones.

The committee is to decide which firm or firms to recommend to the Select Board, which will meet Thursday evening with the Library Planning Committee. It is part of a process that includes getting a conceptual plan and cost estimate on the table by July or early August, and a proposal before voters in November.

No construction is to take place until fundraising for the library project has been completed, said planning committee chairman Jan Rosenbaum, on March 21. 

“There will be no shovels into the ground and no construction plans done until all the money has been raised,” he said. “The library undraising committee is to raise the money. It could be some time before the shovel goes in the ground.”

Currently, however, the work entails choosing an architect based on last week’s conversations. 

“We don't have a building,” said Rosenbaum. “We have six firms competing to work on a design of a building.”

Rosenbaum said the purpose of the presentations was for the committee to understand better each architectural firm’s approach to the project, and for them to “get an understanding of our situation, our town, and the site we are offering to them.” 

The Rockport Select Board had directed the Library Planning Committee in Decemver to circulate a request for qualifications to architects interested in the library project. Eleven firms responded, and from that, six were invited — and each paid $1,500 (out of the Library Committee’s autonomous operating budget) — to describe how they might design and engineering the new library.

The firms were: 
Priestley and Associates Architects, of Rockport
Reed & Co. Architecture, of Portland
Stahnke & Kitagawa Architects, of Brooksville
Stephen G. Smith Architects, of Camden
Stewart Brecher Architects, of Bar Harbor
Winton Scott Architects, of Portland

Although the presentations were not to include actual plans, all of them produced basic graphical outlines, some more detailed than others. The presentations are available to watch here. 

“Being architects, they reached for their pencils,” said Rosenbaum.

But, he emphasized that he did not want the committee judging the firms’ potential on what they drew.

 “We are more interested in their ideas, flexibility, amiability and ability to engage with us,” he said. 

He said it was too early in the process to focus on where the building, parking and green areas might be located. To do that would lead to people to prematurely fixate on smaller details, down to the type of gravel to use.

“It’s too early to talk about gravel,” he said.

Rosenbaum added later in his own written summation of the presentations that the committee wanted to ensure that the firms understood that the town was offering them, “an open door to providing us with insight into their sense of purpose, qualifications, desire, architectural abilities, and flexibility, both inside and outside the building and the ‘box.’”

He clarified that he spoke only from his personal perspective and was not representing the committee when he wrote: “A happy partnership of architect and client, with the willingness to push and pull each other to, ward the best uses of the site for library and park; establishing new relationships to the opera house, the downtown, and the residential areas, all within the context of a new library, a unique civic building that has the most contact with the most residents for the most reasons and uses.

“Can they see solutions not in sight, dare with imagination rather than retreat to safety, gift us all their knowledge lightly and cleverly?” 

The Ad Hoc Library Planning Committee meeting minutes, schedule, news, contact email, and updates can be found at rockport.lib.me.us andtown.rockport.me.us.

Committee members include Ann Filley, Lynn Luzzi, Heather Mackey, Jan Rosenbaum, Joe Sternowski, Eric Frederick, Eric Denny, Tracy Murphy (Select Board liaison and voting member of the committee), and one member of the existing Library Committee. 

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