ROCKPORT — In terms of estimated dollars, it is almost a wash whether the Rockport Public Library remains at its current location and has a new air system installed, or whether its books and staff are temporarily relocated for a four-year stretch, to 485 Commercial St. (Route 1) while the town figures out the future of its library space and location.
With numbers before them, the five members of the Rockport Select Board voted 5 to 0 Monday evening, Sept. 14, to pursue lease negotiations with the owners of 485 Commercial Street — the former offices of book publisher International Marine. The vote followed a lengthy discussion about the different financial scenarios associated with a spreadsheet that had been produced by the town’s financial director, Virginia Lindsey.
This evening, Sept. 21, at 5 p.m., the Select Board will discuss in executive session the potential long-term lease of the Commercial Street property. The meeting will follow a workshop at the Rockport Town Office concerning cemetery-related issues.
In a related matter, the board decided last week not to place a citizens’ petition article concerning the library on the November warrant, but to instead put it on the June 2016 warrant. That article reads: “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.”
Select Board member Ken McKinley said Sept. 14 that by pushing the warrant article to June the discussion over the future of the library will be allowed to evolve, and perhaps by next spring, there will be a clearer picture.
The library and its space has occupied the town for several years. Early in the summer, a town-commissioned engineering report concluded that existing library, built in 1949, needed extended maintenance. Another study concluded that the library should occupy a 9,000- to 11,000-square–foot space to optimize its programs. The existing library, at the corner of Russell Ave. and Union St., in Rockport Village, is approximately 3,000 square feet in size.
By the end of the Sept. 14 meeting, concern over the air quality for library patrons and staff, and the opportunity to negotiate a commercial lease for the Route 1 building, drove the board to its decision to schedule the Sept. 21 executive session about the lease.
The four-year costs associated with this temporary library relocation, for approximately 32,000 books and the library staff members, is $291,120, even though the actual real estate lease costs have yet to be publicly disclosed.
The options and their associated costs, as compiled by Lindsey, are as follows (the complete library cost analysis is also attached as a PDF)
Option 1, stay in library through 2018-2019, no building demolition, no mold remediation: $200,040
Option 2, stay in library building through 2018-2019, no building demolition, would require mold remediation and mitigation: $290,040
Option 3, stay in library through November, relocate to another building, move back after new building construction is completed in third or fourth year: $300,500.
Option 4, stay in library until a decision is made to relocate for construction of a new building, rental in year three, no mold remediation: $291,120
Option 5, stay in library until a decision is made to relocate for construction of a new building, rental in three years, mold remediation in year one: $391,120
As well, Lindsay estimated that the cost of remaining in the library with mold remediation would be $290,040, and without would be $200,040.
Public Works Director Mike Young spoke at the Sept. 14 meeting, saying the 485 Commercial Street building represents a optimal alternative to the current library, for its program needs.
When the discussion veered toward demolition of the existing library building, the Select Board stopped it, agreeing that the process had too “many moving parts” to make that decision.
“We have a building that is not suitable to be running a library out of,” said Town Manager Rick Bates. “The challenge is we need to move but we don’t know what the solution is. We don’t want to be still fighting this in 2018.”
Select Board member Tracy Murphy was adamant that the initial goal is to get the library staff and patrons, and books, out of a deteriorating building, and then to focus on improving the library space.
“Do we spend $203,000 to mitigate the current building?” she said. “That moves us nowhere. Our library has unmet needs. That’s a huge amount of money to make the current building livable and get nothing back. It seems ridiculous to throw money into building that doesn’t meet the current needs of the library.”
At the Sept. 14 meeting, the Camden Hills Regional High School librarian Iris Eichenlaub said the opening weeks at the high school’s library has been overwhelmingly indicative of students’ demand for books and academic help.
Camden Hills library now is open before and after school, and has restaffed its library after several years of reduced access for students.
“There have been more than 900 visits to library by students in first week, coming in for books and for help,” she said. “During freshmen orientation, 297 books circulated, as opposed to last year when the library was only open half time, only 29 books circulated. This is a strong indication that our youth do care about libraries. But our library has limitations, and it is closed at night.”
She urged the select board to “consider what our youth needs are and what our [municipal] library could be in service to all youth.”
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