Meeting tonight

Rockport library consultant wants to hear from citizens, presents initial findings April 29

Petition to keep library at current location on back burner
Posted:  Wednesday, April 29, 2015 - 2:15pm
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ROCKPORT — Rockport Public Library’s consultant, Steve Podgajny, hopes to hear from more Rockport citizens as he schedules a presentation of his initial findings April 29, 5:30 p.m., at the Rockport Opera House. 

Podgajny was hired late last winter to study the library programs, and suggest improvements.

“This is an important meeting to hear what Steve has heard in all of his meetings and interviews prior to his presenting a draft report,” said Town Manager Rick Bates.

The future of Rockport’s public library is a touchy topic, as the town determines its geographical and programmatic future. Some citizens are adamant they want it to remain on the existing site, on the corner of Russell Ave. and Union Street in Rockport Village. Other citizens liked the idea of building anew, either onsite or somewhere else.

The ongoing discussion has resulted in two current actions: Hiring an consultant to review the library’s programs, and hiring an engineering firm to assess the existing building and infrastructure. 

To the latter, the town has hired CES, Inc., which has engineering offices in Brewer, to assess the physical plant. The town is engaging CES for $9,800, and will begin with a review of the library’s heating and ventilation system.  (See attached PDF for an outline of the study)

This study is to help determine whether an expansion or new building is feasible there.

“We will be using the building improvements line from this year’s budget, which hasn’t been spent yet, to get this done immediately so that we have a better idea of what needs to be done and in what order to make the building safe,” said Rockport Town Manager Rick Bates, April 17.

CES is also doing a visual inspection for possible mold and air quality issues.

“If found, we will do a more extensive, and more costly, thorough analysis of things that would impact air quality,” said Bates.

The Rockport Public Library debate

In 2013, the Library Committee discussed moving the library from its current site near Memorial Park and building a new library on the town-owned site on the corner of Route 1 and West Street, the former location of Rockport Elementary School (RES). 

Both sites, 1 Limerock Street and RES locations, are within the village geography, and the RES site proposal engendered a broader discussion about the boundaries of Rockport Village and the definition of Rockport’s downtown.

Planning for the library’s future has become a lively issue in a town whose population is approximately 3,300, and whose residents are passionate about their public facility.

Some citizens have adamantly supported the RES site, while others just as adamantly advocate that it remain in its current location on the corner of Russell Ave. and Union Street.

Last November, Rockport citizens voted down two measures pertaining to the library. They voted 989 to 867 against developing a plan for a new library. And they defeated a motion, 1,065 to 786, to “primarily consider the former Rockport Elementary School site” as a location for a proposed new library. 

After the November vote, the Library Committee, which had endorsed the two November ballot measures, refocused its attention on the library programs, and its existing building. 

In January, the Library Committee voted 4 to 1 to hire Portland Public Library’s Executive Director Steve Podgajny to study Rockport’s library, specifically its programs and spaces. 

In February, the group Friends of Rockport asked the Rockport Select Board to include a question on the June municipal warrant asking: “To see if the Town will vote that any reconstruction, expansion, improvement, renovation or replacement of the Rockport Public Library be limited to its current location at 1 Limerock Street.”

Voting unanimously Feb. 9, the Select Board denied a request from Rockport citizen David Berry to place the question on the warrant, agreeing that it was not necessary at that given time, given the two studies underway.  The proposal was characterized as potentially causing more Unnecessary friction in a town that has seen much recent acrimony over the future of the library’s location.

By refusing to put the article on the ballot, the Friends of Rockport were left with one avenue to get the question before voters — petitioning the town.

In early April, Friends of the Library were knocking on doors throughout Rockport seeking signatures on a petition that would get the question onto the June warrant.

Now they have decided to hold off on that request until the two studies are complete.

Bates said “CES is an engineering firm that specializes in doing this type of work and are removed enough to have no preconceived bias on the building.” 

Programs

The April 29 meeting will focus on library programs as Podgajny will share what he has heard in his meetings with Rockport citizens, according to the Library Committee.

In January, the Library Committee hired Podgajny for $4,100 to complete the study and produce a final June report. 

The Library Committee voted 4 to 1 (Committee member Stephanie Lash casting the dissenting vote) at the Jan. 20 to pay Podgajny $4,100 from the committee’s checking account to proceed with an assessment that he said he will finish by the end of June.

The library has its own trust fund (established in 1980) that is currently in a $840,000 Schwab investment account. The fund’s checking account has $44,909 in it.

 The Library Committee heard in the last election that there is no appetite now for building project on the RES site,” Library Committee Chairman Kathleen Meil. “There is a desire to know more about the library's current potentials and programs, so the committee engaged the consultant to look at programs. The town is undertaking the engineering study and the goal is to have both studies back midsummer and see where they match up.”

A news release from the committee said: Podgajny will outline any areas of widespread interest or concern and request additional input on library in general and those areas in particular. The deadline for public comments via email is May 29.”

Requests for comments, questions, and ideas emailed directly to Podgajny at libraryconsultant@town.rockport.me.us.

Since last winter, Podgajny has been meeting with Rockport citizens, as well as library staff, the Library Committee, Rockport Select Board, the Library for All group and the Friends of Rockport.

Petition

Several weeks ago, a group of Rockport citizens traveled house to house collecting signatures backing a town meeting warrant article placement that would ask Rockport voters if they want to keep the library at its current location. According to Jim Ruddy, of Rockport, more than 220 people signed it.

At the April 17 Select Board meeting, however, the petitioners said that while they have the requisite number of signatures to get the article on the warrant, they will wait until the two studies are complete before pursuing its placement.

“The Friends of Rockport group has drafted a warrant for an upcoming Town election to ensure keeping the Rockport Public Library in the village at its current 1 Limerock Street site.  Many members of our group were disappointed that the Select Board voted not to place the proposed warrant on the June ballot.  To that end, we have collected signatures adequate for a citizens initiative to place this warrant article on a future ballot should that become necessary.

“We will defer submission of our warrant petition until the Library Committee and Select Board have stated their actions in light of the results from the ongoing program and engineering studies currently underway. We will continue to gather signatures for our petition and will continue in our belief that a plan for an improved Library, at its current site, can and will be embraced by the majority of Rockport voters.

 

Related stories 

Rockport selectmen vote no to placing another library question on June ballot

Rockport addresses proposed June Town Meeting article to keep library in situ

What is Rockport Library, and what might it become?

Rockport residents vote against a new library, placing it at former RES site

Rockport leaders approve two library referendums; next stop, voting booth

 Rockport leaders consider controversial library vote, water quality, real estate acquisition 

Rockport subcommittee recommends RES land as library site

Debate over future of Rockport Public Library: Expand on-site or build on former school land 


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