Rockport outlines next steps: Tear down existing library? Reconsider RES site? Survey citizens?
Thursday evening, Dec. 8, the Rockport Select Board will continue its discussion on the future of the Rockport Public Library. The meeting follows a Nov. 30 workshop, at which the public, the Library Committee and Library Planning Committee, as well as Select Board members, talked well into the night about a topic that has occupied the town for five years, and sparked much heated conversation.
The themes were familiar at the Nov. 30 workshop, and though positions of various townspeople had not changed dramatically in the last four years, they were more accustomed to each other’s arguments. Some spoke passionately, while others coaxed the room into laughter with their commentary. There were even a few who were collectively shooed away from the podium by fellow citizens for speaking off-topic. And they mostly all agreed that the proposal to build a new library failed at the Nov. 8 polls for reasons not neatly deconstructed.
After three and half hours, the Select Board agreed that the library’s future may not get decided for months.
But the board did agree to meet again Dec. 8, in the Rockport Opera House, at 7 p.m. (the meeting will be streamed at livestream.com/Rockportmaine). The agenda includes:
1) Public Comment – public comment regarding the Rockport Public Library is encouraged, especially in regards to the topics under discussion during this Special Select Board Meeting
- Statements from Select Board
- Agenda Adjustments
- Existing Library Building
- Discussion and vote on the question, “should the building on 1 Limerock St. be left standing for now or demolished?”
- Opening Communication
- We have the Town Website, the Library Website, Livestream recordings. What about mass mailing?
- Location Survey
- Benefits and drawbacks of the 1 Limerock St. location
- Benefits and drawbacks of the RES location
- Discussion and vote to authorize a survey of the residents
- Call Meeting to Order
- Public Comment
- Direction setting
- When do we meet again?
The vote put the matter of the library squarely back under the purview of the Select Board.
For the last year, the library collection and staff has been housed in temporary quarters in leased space at 485 Commercial Street (Route 1), with the existing library sitting unoccupied, unheated and without maintenance on the corner of Limerock, Russell and Union streets in Rockport Village. The base rate for the annual lease at 485 Commercial Street, the former offices of a book publishing company, is $34,800.
The move there followed several years of municipal debate after the Library Committee proposal to move the library to the town-owned RES site on West Street gathered steam in 2011. The Library Committee had cited the need to expand to accommodate program space.
The library has been at its current Limerock Street location since 1949, with four subsequent expansions there that totaled $303,106. The expansions were paid for primarily through private donations, beginning in 1967; the most recent expansion was in 1995. Originally, the building was 960 square feet in size, and was gradually enlarged to its existing 3,300 square feet.
The RES site had been relinquished to the town from School Administrative District 28 when the Camden-Rockport Elementary School was relocated further west on West Street (Route 90). Architects produced the plans for a new 14,000 square-foot library, attaching a price tag of $3 million to $5 million.
From that point, many meetings ensued, as well as a nonbinding municipal vote not to site it there, a nonbinding vote not to develop plans for a new library in the Village, an engineer’s report citing deteriorating building issues with the existing library, a consultant’s report that called for increasing the library’s space to accommodate program needs, an Aug. 2015 Select Board decision to vacate the existing library due to the threat of mold and construction integrity (one engineer had poked a screwdriver through the wall to illustrate that point), and the contracting of an architect to produce plans for a new library building at 1 Limerock Street.
The Nov. 8 vote, town leaders had hoped, would resolve the library issue, as they all publicly supported the building project.
Now, however, the Select Board is again facing significant decisions, among them, whether to demolish the existing library building and reopen discussions about the RES site.
And the Select Board will talk Dec. 8 about asking citizens their opinion as to why they voted for or against the most recent Village library proposal.
At the Nov. 30 meeting, which can be viewed by watching it here, a number of residents vocalized their opinions.
Dave Jackson said the board, “should not be discouraged that the proposal failed at the polls.... The important step to take now is to assess why people voted against the library. We certainly can guess many of the reasons. Some don't think we need our own library. Others think the temporary quarters will be sufficient. Still others think it is too big or too small or too expensive. Some don't like the design. And there are those who think it is in the wrong place.
“The important thing is to quantify those objections. We want to see if there is a consensus for any of them. That would guide us with the information we need to move forward. A survey mailed to every household in Rockport would be the best way to get a valid response.”
Jackson advised the board not to “rush into it.”
John Sherman said he voted against the Nov. 8 library measure because the current site was the only site offered.
“We feel the coming middle school and vocational school projects will impact taxes,” he said. “The RES site presents a much more practical option. It has easy access, it is economical, and it is already owned by the town.”
Sherman suggested a: “more simple building with provision for future expansion. Go back and consider the RES site again. The Rockport Select Board has the obligation to represent people of all the town, not just those in the Village.”
Brooke Kehoe said she voted yes on the proposal, not because she loved the new design, but because, she said, Rockport needs a safe, healthy building. She said she would like to see the library built “on land that Mrs. Bok gave to town.”
“In the end I voted yes, but also out of fear, because I didn’t want to be here tonight having this conversation,” said Kehoe.
She also commented that the proposed library design failed to “get people sparked and excited.”
John Alexander likened the library issue to a “zombie that is going to keep coming back to life.”
He voted against it because the proposed design was too big, and represented too much money for a town of 3,000 residents. He suggested Rockport become a library satellite for the larger municipalities of Rockland and Camden.
“There is an assumption that we have to build a new library,” he said. “I think that has to be seriously challenged. There are other social needs.”
Ames Curtis, of West Rockport, said she had been a strong proponent for the RES site.
“It is town-owned,” she said. “It was a gift to the town, deeded to the town by a family for the betterment of all citizens of Rockport.”
She urged the Select Board to: “Go back and think of RES as a prime alternative. Get some cost estimates.”
Curtis said that the RES site offers access to all of the community.
“Think of the future,” she said. “If we really value young people, and what the growth can mean for the community, it is important for us to think of their needs. Look toward a bright future for Rockport. It is not just a staid, beautiful place.”
Another resident said he was fearful that the town is about to engage in another process that will be time consuming with cost delays.
“The library referendum went down because the dogs didn’t like the dog food,” he said. “Finances were murky and it was difficult to get answers.”
Robert Duke, a former selectman, member of various committees and former county commissioner, said: “The one thing about Rockport is that we all appreciate each other’s opinion. I don’t think we are necessarily listening to each other. IF you think the library is difficult, the sewer [construction] was really tough.... My advice to the Select Board is to not overanalyze the vote. The vote is the vote. It failed.... What was done leading up to vote didn’t work. Whatever the process was, think about that. This town has become a town of many committees. You five are really the ones who have to take that, own it, and promote it. You have to recognize your responsibility to present an acceptable plan to the voters. Have a bunch of big town meetings and let people air their opinions. Promote it heavily.”
He also said: “Have the collective bravery to develop a plan that you as town leaders will publicly support. Accept the fact that you won’t make everybody happy.... Take your time and do it right.”
John Priestley suggested the town solicit from voters why they voted for and against the Nov. 8 measure.
“Have a meeting to really air out the views,” he said.
John Hyssong said the the cost of the proposed library, “whether it be here or there,” discouraged his approval. He suggested getting the cost down to $2 million.
“If we went to 7,500 feet and got the cost down to $2 million, $1 million in loans, you might be looking at something there,” he said. “The cost was too much.”
Others suggested a survey, as well as a plan that included the RES site, with price comparisons.
“Maybe in January,” said one person. “You do need to hear from people beyond tonight.”
Library Planning Committee Chairman Jan Rosenbaum said, “the citizens have spoken fully and inconclusively,” and suggested the town update its comprehensive plan and establish a “town vision to gather around.”
Paul Charbonneau, who sits on the Library Committee, said: “I want to see a new larger library in Rockport, and would love to see it at Limerock Street. We need something bigger than what we’ve got, but not as big as what has been advocated. We need to be a bit more modest in our expectations.”
He suggested a building, “a little less expensive and a little less big, at least 7,500 square feet.”
Select Board takes on the challenge
After the public spoke Nov. 30, the Select Board entered an extended conversation.
Chairman Bill Chapman said the failure at the polls may have been because: “We didn’t have enough time to answer questions that percolated up. People went to polls with a lot of questions.”
Selectman Brendan Riordan responded, “Is it your belief that if voters had more time there were would have been more enthusiasm?”
“I don’t know,” said Chapman.
“I don’t dispute we didn’t do a fabulous job of getting information out,” said Riordan.
“I agree we need to hear from as many people as possible,” said Select Board member Ken McKinley. “Maybe there is a survey, but not a 10-pager. We need to gauge where the citizenry is.”
The board then talked about trimming library programs, and space, querying the library director about budgets and programs.
But Town Manager Rick Bates said: “The site question needs to get answered. The sooner the better. Then the size will dictate cost.”
Library Committee member Pat Messler suggested the board compare designs and costs for Limerock Street and the RES site.
As the board focused on building space, program needs, costs, a resident who had been watching the meeting at home, entered the room.
“We have been watching on the livestream,” said Parker Chamberlain. “It’s not right. Maybe it’s the location. Maybe it’s not the location. Why not RES? I hear that in the barber shop. Is it more expensive? Is it not more expensive? If you could answer that and get that off the table — if you answer that for yourself, it will fall into place.”
At the end of the 3.5-hour meeting, the board agreed to the Dec. 8’s meeting focus to be on “moving forward with the process of the future of the library,” said Chapman.
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