The Rockport Select Board agreed Dec. 8 that there is no immediate need to tear down the empty library building at the corner of Russell, Ave., Limerock and Union streets in Rockport Village. The board also agreed to survey citizens about what compelled them to vote for or against the Nov. 8 ballot question proposing construction of a new $4 million library.
The decision, though not made with an official vote, followed another extensive conversation with citizens about the location, size and cost of a possible new library.
As they did on Nov. 30, approximately 50 concerned residents filled the downstairs meeting room of the Rockport Opera House to address what has become the town’s most pressing and now longtime issue: building new quarters to house a 32,000 book collection, staff and a variety of library programs.
And, as they did just one week prior, citizens urged the Select Board to take action, suggesting various routes that depended on their personal preferences.
Some, like Dwight Johnson, said the former Rockport Elementary School site on West Street offered the best option on which to build.
“The current library site not adequate and has no room for expansion,” he said. “1 Limerock Street does not allow for future expansion.”
Resident Jean Boobar echoed his sentiments, saying: “I am in favor of the RES site. It is the gateway, with its playing fields, and is an invitation for people to come into the village. The RES site is in the Village and we do have businesses going in that part of it.”
Brooke Kehoe urged the board to clarify the legal ramifications to the town should it withdraw the library from its current location that was deeded to the town by Mary Louise Curtis Bok, in the 1943.
Kehoe also suggested the town talk with Habitat for Humanity about the building itself before considering its demolition.
John Priestley questioned why the RES site was back under discussion, saying the site location had already been decided, with 1 Limerock being the spot.
He also said that the engineering report outlining maintenance and structural deficiencies at existing library building cited air quality, a bit of moisture, and an attic overloaded with books, but “nothing fundamentally wrong with the existing building.”
He said mold could be remediated for a fraction of the cost of new construction.
“There is ample room on that site for [construction] several times its current size,” he said. “The site has distinct advantages, is beloved by many people, and is in the middle of the village. If you strip it out you don’t have a village anymore. It’s not just about parking.”
After closing the official public comment portion of the meeting (although comments continued to be received throughout the night), Select Board members each delivered personal statements about locating and designing an acceptable library building for the community. The common thread rested on the acknowledgement that it was their responsibility to put a plan before voters. But first, they want to hear from the voters.
They tentatively agreed to retain resident Emily Lusher to help write a survey. Lusher, describing her professional career in research and circulating public surveys, had offered her assistance to the town pro bono, excepting mailing costs and printing expenses.
The board also agreed that they won’t know enough about the location they would propose until they hear from as many residents as possible.
“The elephant in the room is the location,” said Select Board member Geoff Parker. “A lot of people want to have the RES site considered again. A survey would allow us to talk with other than the other 75 other people who are not here now. I am looking forward to bringing the community back from a fractious state.”
Parker advocated for more open, and stronger communication with all citizens, as the board talked about the merits of an online survey and a hard-copy survey distributed through the mail.
“How do we get to more people,” asked Parker. “You have to plant seeds in a lot of different gardens.”
At one point, board member Ken McKinley referred to the survey as market research, which struck a chord with board member Owen Casas.
“I like the market research,” he said. “It changes the whole dynamic of the conversation.”
While Parker referenced library location as the elephant in the room, McKinley offered a different perspective.
“It might not be,” he said. “If 80 people voted no because it was too expensive and 40 voted no because it was not at RES, that’s valuable information for us. You will find out how strong a person’s attachment is to a site, or what the factors are that elicit the strongest opinion. Maybe it is to make it smaller, a 6,000 to 7,000-square- foot size.”
Town Manager Rick Bates pointed out that the community of Rockport is well connected online.
“We are a connected community,” he said. “Twenty one people are watching and seven are communicating with each other through the chat function on Livestream. We really need to use some online component and digital component to allow people to give us opinion. Most surveys are done on the phone or done online. There are many layers of communication efforts and we would be remiss if we didn’t have digital.”
Chapman asked Parker, “You want a survey that elicits opinion?”
“For me, it is most important to flesh out the concerns of people and address their concerns,” Parker said. “That’s what I think bothers people.They feel disenfranchised.”
Bates said that if citizens respond that the primary reason the Nov. 8 measure was defeated because of the project size and cost, “you could turn that around.”
The architects have done all the groundwork, and could modify the existing design on the 1 Limerock Street site.
“The challenge of going to another site is that it’s a different site,” he said. “We can’t just plunk the library down there. That pushes it back into next year, June 2018, two years away. If site is the issue, then you are really looking at two years from now.”
Parker agreed, and said it was the intent of the town to move forward responsibly.
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