The Select Board voted 4 to 1 Dec. 12 in favor building a new Rockport Public Library at 1 Limerock St. in Rockport's downtown village, the location of the existing facility. In so doing, the possibility of siting the new structure at a lot on West Street, the former site of the Rockport Elementary School, was finally removed from future consideration.

The vote by selectmen reaffirmed a decision they had made Feb. 28 in favor of the Limerock property rather than the RES site. However in the past months a group of advocates for the RES location, as well as the findings of a town-wide survey that reflected that residents were divided over the two locations, brought the lot near the intersections of Route 1 and Route 90 back into the conversation.

The meeting began with a period of public comment, during which Rockport resident Bill Freeman urged the Select Board to make a decision on the location of the new library once and for all, and reminded the selectmen that the Limerock site had been chosen by still-serving members of the Board Chariman Ken McKinley and Owen Casas.

"It seems like we've been here for five years on this subject, and that we've voted on what the future is going to be on the Rockport Library … it has been voted on twice that the library will be built at 1 Limerock St," said Freeman, who added that one of the factors contributing to this decision was the fact that constructing a facility on the RES site would likely be a multi-year project.

"I remind you that that was one of the biggest factors contributing to decisions made by members of the board at that time… We need to stop renting over on Route 1," said Freeman of the library's temporary location, which has been rented at a cost of approximately $35,000 per year since December of 2015.

McKinley said that because, aside from himself and Casas, recently elected Selectmen Doug Cole, Mark Kelley and Tom Gray were not on the board in February, the current Select Board was not necessarily bound to keep 1 Limerock as the decided location — a decision which over the previous months was not reversed or rescinded.

The five Selectmen also agreed at a November meeting that the total budget for the library building would not exceed $3 million, and that this money would be drawn in equal parts from taxpayer bond obligations and donations by private entities. Cole asked if more than $1.5 million were raised through donations, whether the amount to be raised by taxpayers would be proportionately reduced.

"From my perspective, if our private fundraising is wildly successful and we raise more than 1.5., then I would advocate strongly that a significant part of that go to reducing the taxpayer bond amount. We can pick a certain percentage at some point. If we can offer the taxpayers some relief on this project, I would like to do that," said McKinley.

The Select Board agreed on the proposed budget for the library following the survey, which listed size and cost as the most important factors and concerns among residents with the previous library proposal. The proposal, which failed at the November 2016 polls by a margin of nine votes, called for a $4 million, 9,360-square-foot building at 1 Limerock St., and involved creating parking spaces across from the library in Memorial Park.

Prior to taking a vote on location at the Tuesday night meeting, Gray asked McKinley what he referred to as a question of "institutional memory," and to explain the the February vote to select 1 Limerock St. Following a timeline from McKinley, which included an explanation of a 2014 proposal for RES that failed at the polls, Gray suggested offering a multiple choice ballot question — offering both locations- at an upcoming election. Gray suggested a three-pronged question asking voters to choose 1 Limerock, the RES site, and whether or not they supported building a new library at all.

"My fear is that the location will be enough to defeat a referendum, no matter which [site] it is. I think we have a really unconventional situation that probably needs a different solution … That will be the best way for us to get the approval of a library at either place: to do that, we would need to expend resources to develop site plans for both locations … it would be doing our due diligence," Gray said.

"By the time we do all these extended surveys, there will be none of us left on the board, because it will take so many years … it also involves what might be the bigger plans for that [RES] property: what about the rest of the adjoining land? I think it would take a fair amount of time," Kelley said.

Cole said although favored the Limerock St. location prior to being elected to the Select Board, the advice of a panel of town planners at a previous meeting, paired with the objective information received from the survey, solidified his decision to honor the February vote in favor of the site.

"I personally am willing to take the chance of a defeat at the polls, because that's what our democracy is all about. I certainly hope that wouldn't happen, but I feel that if we make a decision on a site, and that the Library Committee can live with it and that the Select Board is happy with it, I believe [a new library] will succeed," said Cole.

McKinley warned that the three-pronged approach to the question proposed by Gray would likely not result in a clear majority position that the public wanted to support, and could be problematic when the town approached them for the bond council to withdraw funds for the project, based on a vote involving a non-majority approval of the library. Town Manager Rick Bates said that a multiple-choice binding poll question is always advised against by the town's legal counsel.

"In politics, the process is the product. And in this case the process has not been successful in getting us a library. … I don't think it has been a dishonorable process, but I want it to be successful. That's why I'm thinking about how we can try something unconventional," Gray said.

McKinley, Casas, Cole and Kelley voted in favor of siting the new Rockport Public Library at 1 Limerock St., with Gray opposed. A date has not yet been decided when a new library proposal will be placed before Rockport voters.