Library architect contentious topic at Rockport meeting
Rockport — The Rockport Select Board voted April 13 to rescind a previous motion that gave multiple architects consideration in the design of a new Rockport Public Library.
The Portland-based Reed & Co. Architects is currently engaged in a contract with the town to be involved with future library planning. The firm drafted the previous design for a proposed library to be built at 1 Limerock St., which was voted down by Rockport residents last November.
The motion to rescind was proposed at the April 13 Special Library Workshop by Selectman Ken McKinley, who said architect Dick Reed had expressed at an April 11 meeting with the board that he would not be willing to continue with library planning if the project were opened to the six finalists that had been previously considered for the project by the Ad Hoc Library Committee before he was chosen.
"I think that [Reed & Co.] has done a wonderful job for us, they're a fine firm," said McKinley. "Dick would be willing to continue with us, but would not be willing to continue with the process if the project is opened up to another architectural firm."
Before the motion was made, the meeting was opened to public comment, during which Rockport resident Ames Curtis criticized the work the Select Board had done since taking responsibility for the library project after the proposal crafted by the Ad Hoc Library Committee was voted down at the polls in November.
“The Select Board has waffled and pandered to special groups, reinvented the wheel after hard work by any number of committees and individuals,” said Curtis. She proposed that Reed & Co. create floor plans for a library at the RES site for comparison purposes, although the Select Board previously voted to site a new library at 1 Limerock Street.
“I believe the Select Board has taken advantage of, if not outright abused, the citizens they have appointed on committees,” said Curtis, who referenced work done by library steering committees in previous years in determining “unanimously and very objectively” that the RES site was preferable to 1 Limerock.
“What citizen in their right mind is now willing to serve at the behest of the Select Board?” asked Curtis.
"I have gotten frustrated at a lot of Select Board meetings, but I'm not ready to throw the kind of aspersions at you guys that were thrown at you tonight," said Rockport resident and Library Committee member Paul Charbonneau.
“I think that you have done your level best to try and meet the interests and concerns of all parties, you have listened to everybody patiently," said Charbonneau, who added that the library had been a divisive issue in town for years.
The Select Board recently discussed distributing a survey to Rockport residents to gauge their enthusiasm and preferences for a new library, along with conducting some sort of mediation in advance of placing a warrant article on an upcoming ballot. Resident Christine Sady said she thought asking for input at the June elections was too late.
"You dropped the ball, folks," said Sady, adding that the board waited too long to make contact with local heirs of Helen Bok, who had given the property at 1 Limerock St. to the town with the provision that the site only be used for a library. She said this interim of uncertainty as to the future of the property swayed favor in the direction of keeping the library at Limerock Street.
"Of course we're not going to give RES enough shake [in the site-deciding process], because we think we're going to lose the property," Sady said. Town Manager Rick Bates and Selectman Geoff Parker said at a previous Select Board meeting that the Bok heirs they talked to expressed no interest in taking ownership of 1 Limerock away from the town should it decide not to site the next library there.
Following public comment, McKinley moved to rescind the previous consideration of six additional architects, in order to move forward in the design process with Reed & Co. McKinley added that some of the other architects had expressed a reluctance to compete for a project on which Reed was considered an "incumbent," and for which he was still under contract.
"By withdrawing this previous motion [to consider the other architects], we're not closing any doors. We're trying to get that information we need to figure out where we want to go at this time. We need to get to the bottom of what is separating the town, and change the "no" vote [last November] to a positive "yes" vote," Board Chairman Bill Chapman said.
"Dick [Reed} didn't ask us to rescind, he asked us not to consider other people," said Parker, who added it was "inappropriately-timed" to rescind a motion to consider other architects if it were revived at future meetings.
"We already have a contract with Reed & Co., and I think you're in good ground to sit in idle with that ... during mediation and a survey," said Bates.
"I think it's fair for us to say that [Reed] is very good with library interiors, and not so good at curb appeal, based on his other work, all the way along the line," said Parker. "My press to look at other people's talents is that the curb appeal doesn't do it for me."
Parker referred to the Ad Hoc Library Committee, which had previously tapped Reed to draft the design for the $4 million library on the November ballot item.
"They did a terrific job on a lot of stuff ... but to only sell the interior ... something that feels disjointed, is not inviting and therefore you may never find yourself to enjoy the brilliance inside," said Parker.
"This is so unfair," said Library Committee member Stevie Kumble, who served on the Ad Hoc Committee. "Dick [Reed] has done 31 libraries ... To say that he is not concerned with the exterior is totally false ... I think you are just being grossly unfair to what he is capable of doing and are doing a tremendous disservice to his firm."
Select Board members McKinley, Chapman and Owen Casas voted in favor of a motion to rescind the previous motion to consider the six architects in the library process. Parker voted against the motion. The next Special Library Meeting of the Select Board is scheduled for April 24 at 7 p.m. at the Rockport Opera House.