Next step? And what is a library these days, anyhow?

Rockport subcommittee recommends RES land as library site

Mon, 06/23/2014 - 10:30am

    ROCKPORT — Rockport Library's Steering Committee has completed a three-month study of possible library expansion scenarios, and on June 16, it delivered the recommendation that Rockport consider construction of a new library at the former Rockport Elementary School site on West Street. Today, at 4:30 p.m., the Library Committee meets to continue talking about next steps.

    The meeting takes place in the Richardson Room at the Rockport Town Office.

    The goal of this afternoon’s meeting of the Library Committee is to “focus on getting a recommendation to the Rockport Select Board,” said Library Committee Chairman Kathleen Meil. While the meeting is public and citizen comments will be received, the committee members are to spend time talking amongst themselves about how to proceed.

    Debate over the future of Rockport’s library has been lively and opinionated since last year, when the Library Committee posed the idea of moving the library from its current site near Memorial Park and building a new library on the town-owned RES site.

    Both sites are within the village confines, and the proposal has opened many discussions about the boundaries of Rockport Village and the definition of Rockport’s downtown.

    Executive Summary from the Steering Committee Report:

    “The Steering Committee appointed by the Library Committee met from March 3, until mid-June, 2014. We examined eight potential sites for a public library in Rockport (6 individual sites, 1 combined site (the current site + Memorial Park), and 1 generalized site, referred to as’Rt 1’, that served as a proxy for similar commercial locations).

    ”Repair and/or expansion of the current library, remodeling of another existing building,
    and construction of a new building were considered, depending on the site.

    ”The Steering Committee developed and used a matrix of key criteria to evaluate the
    site. As a group, we fully endorse the matrix as our recommendation tool.

    “While we were asked to recommend the two top sites, the differential in ratings
    between the site ranked 1 and sites ranked 2 and 3, and the closeness of numbers 2 and
    3 to each other, As such, The SC voted unanimously (1) to accept the matrix results as
    representative of the collective wisdom of the committee, and (2) to recommend only
    one site, with the further recommendation that the Library Committee further evaluate
    all three carefully.

    ”The Steering Committee recommends for further consideration by the Library
    Committee — RES site, corner of West Street (Rt 90) and Commercial Street (Rt 1).”

    And while the Library Committee had directed a subcommittee to explore possible sites, including the existing site, an independent group of Rockport residents also networked, agreeing on one premise: That the Rockport Public Library remain on its current site and that there be made “reasonable improvements to the library building and its surrounding site,” said Jim Ruddy, of Rockport.

    “Our concerns are two fold,” he said. “First, we feel that  appropriate and practical improvements can be made to the current building and site that will easily take care of its current and future needs. Secondly, we think it's important for the library to remain in the center of the village because it has been and will always be one of the most important anchors to the downtown area. It is one of the most well regarded and prettiest libraries on the coast of Maine and we'd like to keep it that way.”

    Last July, approximately 100 Rockport citizens gathered in the Opera House meeting room and debated the pros and cons of relocating the library.

    The library had received a $15,000 grant from the Davis Family Foundation to explore expansion and then its governing committee held a workshop with the town’s Select Board to discuss the idea of moving.

    Citizens agreed that night, and at future meetings, to determine also how it might be possible to enlarge the library on its current site. In November 2013, voters approved a measure that would allow expansion into the shoreland zone (a perennial brook runs along one side of the library) for this specific proposal.

    In March, the Library Committee appointed nine residents to a steering committee, which was charged with researching and advising about the options of renovating the existing library or constructing a new one.

    The Library Committee consists of citizens who have been elected to it. That committee asked citizens who were interested in the issue to serve on its ad hoc steering committee.

    The Steering Committee originally comprised:
    Richard Anderson (resigned, replaced by Dave Jackson)
    Nell Dailey (resigned, replaced by Ames Curtis)
    Warren Erickson
    Carole Gartley
    Peter Hall
    Bill Leone (resigned, replaced by Staci Coomer)
    Judy Lindahl
    Pat Messler
    Jan Rosenbaum (Chairman)
    Charlton Ames (Select Board, Ex Officio)
    Rick Bates (Town Manager, Ex Officio)
    Bill Chapman (Select Board, Ex Officio)
    Ann Filley (Acting Library Director, Ex Officio)
    Kathleen Meil (Library Committee Chairman, Ex Officio)

    By June, the committee sifted through data associated with eight potential sites, using 11 criteria to rank them.

    Those sites included:

    1. The existing library site
    2. Memorial Park, across Limerock Street from the library
    3. The combined site (current library property + Memorial Park)
    4. RES - the now-vacant Rockport Elementary School site
    5. CMCA building
    6. Route 1 (available large commercial sites on Rt 1)
    7. Camden Hills Regional High School library
    8. Rockport Properties site (the vacant building site on Central street abutting the
    Shepard Building, adjacent to Mary Lea Park)

    “Five fell away, leaving three possible sites,” said Chairman Jan Rosenbaum, in a June 19 conversation.

    Then, the committee called in architect John Scholz, builder Dave Nazaroff and engineer Will Gartley to evaluate those three sites — the RES site; the existing library site, plus the land of Memorial Park across Limerock Street; and, the vacant lot on Central Street adjacent to the Shepherd Building on the Mary Lea Park side.

    On June 12, the committee met with their consultants, and then added considerations, including costs associated with site preparation, construction and operations.

    “At that point we could see that one site was significallty ahead of the other two sites,” said Rosenbaum.

    The committee then finished its 38-page report and delivered it to the Library Committee, suggesting it should consider additional criteria in making its decision.

    “We tried to be as unbiased as we could, and used things that we could measure,” said Rosenbaum. “We left the softer stuff — the hard part — to the committee.”

    That “softer stuff” is the philosophical discussion of how a community regards its library.

    “It's not really what the library looks like, its about what the library does,” said Meil.

    Are programs important, or should the library just consist of books, and the act of checking out books?

    Is it a community center, an inter-generational space where citizens meet up with neighbors, where toddlers and retired people sit in the same building?

    “What you want the library to look like is very much connected to that,” said Meil.

    Themes emerging from the library listening tours held last winter included that a town library be a lifelong learning center with books, where one learns how to use the Internet, a place for knitting groups to meet, how to learn to operate a Kindle, “how to learn how to get a job,” said Rosenbaum.

    “The library is an icon,” said Meil. “And that one is really touchy-feely. A library is a pillar of democracy, where everyone is welcome and has equal access to everything. From the listening tour, it is clear the majority of Rockport citizens want the library to be something more than a place to check out books.”

    She said there is much talk about the library of the future, what it might look like.

    What is less known, Rosenbaum said, is what the library of the past was.

    “Libraries once taught us how to use microfilm, and was the first place to use a fax machine,” he said. “The technology has changed, but libraries always were first place that anyone could access it.”

    In the end, it will be Rockport citizens who decide on the future of the library. Right now, it is up to the Library Committee to make a recommendation. Whether its members choose to put a proposal on the November ballot moving the RES site forward, or whether they choose an alternate path, and look a few years down the line, will be determined.

    Rockport voters have not had the chance to vote on whether they even want a new library, and as the discussion moves forward, the shape of that question will also be determined.

    The goal, however, is to move something to the voters, said Meil.

    That could be a design of a new library at RES.

    In the meantime, the Library Committee recognizes how much work went into the Steering Committee’s report.

    For Rosenbaum, he wants one thing from the town.

    “It would be nice if they read the report,” he said.

    Editorial Director Lynda Clancy can be reached at; 207-706-6657