Rockport group’s offer to buy neighboring property for library project put on hold
ROCKPORT — In a sudden turn of events, the group of Rockport residents that had formally offered the town a property donation on which to expand the library construction project has now cancelled its scheduled March 7 meeting with the Select Board. That meeting was to incorporate public comment, followed by a discussion and decision about the offer.
“We see no purpose for the scheduled March 7 meeting and request that it be cancelled,” wrote Nick Ruffin, Sally Cook and Alex Armentrout, in an email to Rockport Select Board Chairman Bill Chapman, on March 6.
“Our push for the June ballot was to have the Select Board’s approval of a site and building design before buying the 3 Limerock property,” they wrote. “We cannot begin to raise funds for such a purchase without a plan that gives indication of the use of the combined land and the appearance of the new library building.
“Moreover, at this point, any further active pursuit of the 3 Limerock property (fundraising, publicity, etc.) could only inflame the local conflict that has surfaced around it, and could interfere with enthusiasm and fundraising for the library project which will now be developed to appear on the ballot in November.
“At this time we are not terminating our Option To Purchase with the Scott’s, but would like more time to look ahead, to see what develops, and to consider other possibilities.”
The cancellation followed a Feb. 28 meeting of the Select Board, whose members asked the group’s attorney, Paul Gibbons, about the expectations that would be associated with the 3 Limerock Street donation.
Earlier in the month, the Select Board had listened as Armentrout and Gibbons explained the group’s intent to raise money and donate it to the town to buy a house next door to the existing library site at 1 Limerock Street. That proposal included having designated engineers and architects produce a library design, pro bono, for the town, for those two combined lots.
With the purchase of 3 Limerock Street, which comprises an 1850-built clapboard home and piece of land less than an acre is size, the goal was to open the construction site of a new library at 1 Limerock Street with more design space.
The group had offered to raise $457,000 to purchase 3 Limerock Street. They began negotiating with the property owners, the family of Joanna Scott, last year, and signed a contract to purchase the 7,362-square-foot lot and house.
The six-month contract ends Aug. 1.
“The goal is to raise all funds required for this purchase, privately,” said Armentrout, at the Feb. 21 Select Board meeting. “While that may not prove possible, a good start has been made toward this goal. Obviously, if all funds are not raised privately, public funds may be required to complete the purchase. We do not expect that to happen.”
A group of professionals has been assembled to help with the project.
“A team of local architects and engineers stands ready to prepare, at no cost to the town, design drawings for a small library, less costly than the proposal voted on last November,” said Armentrout. “This team awaits direction from the Select Board as to the parameters of this building.”
That team included Engineer Will Gartley; architects Mazie Cox, Brink Thorne, Justin Smith, Geoff James and Stephen Smith; builders Allen Mitchell and Tom Albertson; and library consultants Ben Blackmon, Evelyn Greenlaw and Terry DeWan.
Armentrout said the team would build off of the work already completed by architects Reed and Company, and the ad hoc library committee.
Armentrout said new drawings would be completed by the Smith architects, and that the addition of the Scott property to the library site would not be just for a parking lot.
He estimated the new library design would cost approximately $3 million. The last library construction proposal carried a $4 million price tag.
At that meeting, as well as at the Feb. 28 Select Board meeting, Select Board members quizzed Armentrout and Gibbons about the specifics of pro bono.
Armentrout said Feb. 21 that the group would raise the money, and give it to the town to buy the property. There would be no restrictions, other than the donors would be giving in good faith that the property would be used for the municipal library project.
They said it would expected that the town would put the final design and engineering job out to bid, per town policy and that the design would be in accordance with the vision of the Select Board.
Armentrout said that if the Select Board decides to build at 1 Limerock Street, and the money is raised to buy 3 Limerock Street, then the town would accept a contract with the Rockport group, take the money and buy the Scott property.
And, he said, the engineers and architects would produce plans to “meet the guidelines set by the Select Board.”
At the Feb. 28 meeting, when the Rockport Select Board decided to keep the town’s library at its home location: 1 Limerock Street, in downtown Rockport, across the street from Memorial Park, instead of moving the site to the former Rockport Elementary School land on West Street. The decision followed the Nov. 8, 2016, voter defeat — by nine votes — of a proposal to accept a design of a $4 million library at 1 Limerock Street. The funding would have called for a $2 million municipal bond coupled with a $2 million private fundraising effort.
The board learned at the Feb. 28 meeting that the services provided by architect or engineering services are exempt from town policy that requires a bid process.
The board also learned that questions remained as whether the pro bono group would expect to be the architects and engineers through the entire project.
Select Board member Owen Casas said: “I was happy to entertain and consider your very generous offer but your hesitation to answer the question about are we required under your contract or your concept to use these professional architects, that hesitation to answer that and say basically no, is really causing me to stop and question this.”
“I’ll answer that,” said Gibbons. “We are are not willing to do that.”
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