‘we will not be revisiting previous decisions’

Rockport's library design team declines to consider architect’s alternative proposal

Thu, 09/06/2018 - 2:30pm
    ROCKPORT — When the design team for the new Rockport Public Library meets this afternoon, Sept. 6, it will not be discussing a recent submission by Rockport architect John Priestley of his independent library design ideas, which he says, will shave up to $575,000 off of the project whose price tag of $3.5 million. 
    The team, comprising Select Board Chairman Doug Cole, Select Board member Ken McKinley, Library Committee member Anne Filley, Library Director Ben Blackmon, Architect Stephen Smith, Engineer Will Gartley, Town Manager Rick Bates and the contracted project manager, Phi Builders & Architects, is to meet at the town office and continue detailing the design.
    “The meeting on Thursday is to discuss detailed refinements to the mechanical, electrical, and plumbing estimates with Will Bennett,” said Cole, in an email. “I believe he will be attending the meeting. At this point in the process we will not be revisiting previous decisions, so we will not be discussing John's work.”
    The Select Board is hoping voters will approve a $1.5 million bond at the November ballot box so that the town can proceed on hiring a contractor to build the $3.5 million library. A fundraising group recently organized as the Rockport Library Foundation, is presently soliciting $2 million or more in private donations to help build the new 7,000-square-foot structure on the corner of Russell Ave., and Limerock, Union and Central streets.
    Priestley, as well as Smith, had submitted designs during the town’s solicitation of ideas in 2016 and 2017. The town originally selected Reed and Co., of Yarmouth, in 2016 to design the new library. When the voters declined, by nine votes, in November 2016 to approve the library construction, the Select Board invited architects back to the table.
    While Reed and Co. remained the favored architectural company by some on the Select Board, its principles decided to pull out of the process, which left the Select Board again in the position of selecting an architect for the job. The board then eventually chose Stephen Smith Architects, of Camden.  
    The proposed new library is to be set on a 5,000 square foot footprint at 1 Limerock Street, in Rockport Village, on the site of the existing library. That empty building, sitting on a 3,400 square foot footprint, was constructed in 1949 and expanded several times over the decades. In 2013, the town determined it unsuitable for renovations and marked the building for eventual demolition.

    The town’s 32,000-book collection and library operations are currently housed in rented office space on Route 1. The existing library building in Rockport Village is shuttered and considered a tear-down by the Select Board.

    Earlier this week, Priestley circulated his proposed design changes, as encapsulated in an Aug. 22 letter to Smith, to various members of the Select Board, Library Committee, Building Committee, Rockport Library Foundation, the Town Manager, and Steve Smith, according to Priestley. 
    He wrote: “You know from earlier correspondence that I had estimated the cost of my library scheme as saving about $575,000 – assuming equivalent finishes, fixtures, materials, and interior areas. One of the most significant goals of the Town throughout the Library’s gestation has been cost containment; consequently, presenting the Town with a solution that assures considerably more savings would be directly in accordance with your contractual obligations.”
    Priestley said to Smith that he had contacted a local contractor and got an estimate for his “library scheme relative to the one of yours he priced,”  with savings of approxlmately $369,600.

    “Of course, you – and the town – may be skeptical of this large a savings: what is missing from my scheme?,” Priestley continued. “Does the layout work well? How about operational costs? To address those potential concerns, I have attached two documents. One is a ‘Rockport Public Library Design Area Analysis.’ The analysis provides a side-by-side comparison of areas, directly scaled from the respective plans.”

    Priestley also said he solicited a critique of the library designs from a consultant, who told him, Priestley said, that: “a one-story scheme carries lower operational costs. Plus, having no elevator eliminates the initial cost of installation, annual service, inspection, and electrical expenses. Over time, operational costs will vastly outstrip the initial capital cost. Fortunately, the one-story scheme saves the taxpayer on both up-front and on-going expenses.”

    Priestley said that given the lead time before the November warrant vote: “there is more than ample time to issue and promote a fresh iteration. I have an accurate plan at the ready; it is my fourth refinement of the same basic scheme so it has been carefully developed. I have a street elevation, roof plan describing volumes, and a site plan. I recall your complementary remarks about your son Justin’s abilities at producing architectural renderings, and no doubt he could adapt your current rendering to a revised plan. Additionally, my office can provide a 3-D model (Sketch-up) that would allow for the creation of perspective views, and a ‘fly by’ video of the building that could be accessed by the public on the Town and Library websites.”

    He continued: “All the above withstanding, there might be a few with an impulse to ‘stay the course’ in the hope that private funding might make up the budget shortfall. But there could be few developments that would do more to assure the Library’s success at the polls than an announcement that the Building Committee and team had developed a way to save over half a million dollars in the lead-up to the vote.... Fresh graphic images coupled with a greatly reduced budget and no concessions to Library programming would assure the Town’s interests being met to the greatest degree possible.”

    Priestley offered to meet with the design team.

    However, Rockport’s Town Manager Rick Bates concurred with Cole’s decision, and said the design team would not be meeting with Priestley. Bates, in emails to Priestley in May, said the town had contracted with Smith to design the new library.

    “That was voted on by the Select Board at a regular meeting,” he wrote. “For us to go round and round is pointless.”

    Steve Smith, meanwhile, has responded to the Foundation and the Library Committee members with a letter and said:

    “I have decided not to respond to John Priestley’s letter (dated August 22) since in part there is so much misinformation and inaccurate statements including the analysis of the library design without any understanding of the site or the design decisions the library committee made.”

    In May 2017, Priestley had made public his own library design. 


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