ROCKPORT —Rockport seems to want a traditional library, both in look – it should be similar in appearance to the buildings surrounding it – and in mission: To lend books, have librarian assistance available, and offer a children’s area. And, many residents agree, having one’s own town library is important to the community, overall.
Where to build a new one, however, remains a bone of contention, and the town remains split between favoring 1 Limerock Street, at the existing library location, and the former Rockport Elementary School site, on West Street.
“I don’t think I’ve seen two different items rated on a scale that have had the response as this,” said Bruce Lockwood, president of Portland Research Group, the marketing firm that was hired by Rockport to gather resident and business owner opinion about the Rockport Public Library. “It’s incredible.”
Lockwood was presenting the findings from the survey Rockport commissioned to better understand public sentiment about the purpose of a library, whether and where to build a new one, how much to spend, and what it might look like.
Lockwood stood before the Rockport Select Board and approximately 20 citizens Monday evening, Nov. 6, to present survey data, as well as his conclusions and recommendations.
(See attached PDFs for the complete survey report and executive summary)
Elsewhere, 39 more citizens were tuning in via their computers, using the town’s livestream capabilities to watch the board workshop.
No decisions were made during the 90-minute meeting, and Rockport Select Board Chairman Ken McKinley said the board will likely take up the matter of the library’s future once again when the board convenes Nov. 13 for a regularly scheduled meeting.
Lockwood spent almost an hour moving through a PowerPoint presentation about the survey data and findings, at times explaining the finer points of statistical analysis. He said:
• 1,019 responded to the survey, representing a 35.82 percent response rate.
• Of those, 569 females and 468 males responded to the 23 questions. (There were approximately 10 returned useless surveys, said Lockwood, onto which some residents has scrawled inappropriate remarks, or said the survey was a “waste of money.”)
• The general trend reflected from the responses is that Rockport is willing to fund at least $1 million to less than $2 million of a library project, with a total investment of at least $2 million to less than $3 million.
• Many in Rockport want a new library to look similar to the buildings around it.
• As has been apparent since the town first started talking about constructing a new library, the site remains under debate. Forty seven percent of those responding to a the library survey prefer the former Rockport Elementary School parcel on West Street while 45 percent prefer the existing library site, at 1 Limerock Street.
The survey had been commissioned by the Select Board in June and the town agreed to spend $9,850, plus or minus 10 percent, on the survey. The decision to ask Rockport residents their opinion about building a new library, its design and for how much, was made following a long board process. Last winter, after the Select Board assumed leadership of the new library project, there was a brief discussion about polling Rockport citizens to help determine why a $2 million proposal for a $4 million new library failed at the Nov. 8, 2016 polls by just nine votes.
But, the board decided against conducting a survey, only to reconsider it later in the spring. In May, the Select Board directed Town Manager Rick Bates to frame the survey parameters, and in the RFP, the town said it wanted “to understand exactly what details the majority of Rockport residents would agree to for a new proposal to resolve the current issues with the Rockport Public Library.”
Conclusions and recommendations
According to Lockwood:
Rockport should continue to try to find a viable option for supporting the Rockport Public Library since most people:
- – agree the Rockport Public Library is important to the community,
- – have access to a Rockport Public Library card,
- – visit the Rockport Public Library at least occasionally (average of 33.1 times per year), and
- – believe traditional library offerings are important.
- In order to move forward with a proposal for the Rockport Public Library, people are going to have to compromise on some elements of a proposal.
- – Perhaps the most difficult compromise will be settling on the location since the two locations in question, 1 Limerock Street and RES received almost identical positive, neutral and negative ratings from respondents.
- – Parking is also an aspect of any library proposal, that will need to be carefully considered and some people may not get all of the parking they desire.
- – In addition, some of the desire and/or expectations for expansion will have to be pulled back.
- The research indicates that taxpayers are willing to fund at least $1 million to less than $2 million of a library project with a total investment of at least $2 million to less than $3 million. While the percentage of the cost of the project paid by taxpayers remains at about 50% like the Library Proposal voted on in November 2016, the overall investment level is less, requiring a scaled down project.
The exterior design of the Rockport Public Library building needs to be similar in style to the buildings surrounding it.
The Rockport Public Library plan should include upgrades to library systems and provide library patrons access to the latest technology available.
Lockwood, who is a resident of Cape Elizabeth and said his town went through a similar prolonged debate about building its new library, emphasized the importance of gathering Rockport citizen opinion via a survey.
“People got the opportunity to say how they feel,” he said.
The Select Board thanked Lockwood, and board member Tom Gray said there was much data included in the report on which to reflect.
Likewise, Rockport Public Library Ben Blackmon agreed that the report would be useful in moving forward toward a new library design.
Library Committee member Heaven Bartlett said the report was helpful, and her committee, as well as the Select Board, committed to convening a joint meeting in the near future to talk about the report implications.
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