Select Board sets $3 million budget for new library

By Louis Bettcher | Nov 14, 2017

Rockport — Following the revelations last week from a townwide survey that sought to determine where and at what cost a new Rockport Public Library should be built, members of the Rockport Select Board met Nov. 13 to decide how to proceed with the planning process.

After an hour of discussion, the four selectmen present voted unanimously to approve a motion to set the maximum cost for the new library at $3 million. Selectman Mark Kelley was absent from the meeting.

This $3 million budget reflects a reduction of $1 million from the overall cost of a proposed library building that failed at the polls in November 2016. That proposal would have sited the library at 1 Limerock St., the address from which the previous structure operated for nearly 100 years.

The motion passed Monday night stipulated that the $3 million cost would not include road design or parking, and that the money would be split equally between a municipal bond and private fundraising. The motion added that Town Manager Rick Bates would contact the architects previously involved in library planning, but made no mention of a site for the library -- a divisive issue that has thwarted progress on the project.

Approximately 1,090 Rockport residents, about a third of the town's registered voters, participated in the survey, which was available online as well as in paper form. Among the topics residents were polled on was the decision between siting the new building at either 1 Limerock St. or at the former Rockport Elementary School lot on West Street

Only five votes separated respondents on their preference of the RES site or Limerock Street for the new library, with RES receiving 1,039 and Limerock receiving 1,034.

Chairman Ken McKinley began the discussion of the survey findings Monday night by stating that he felt the most significant result was that 74 percent of the respondents to the survey said they feel that a public library is an important aspect of the town.

“I think that is our charge as the Select Board, that we have to fix, we have to solve, this issue. That's a pretty strong mandate that a large percentage of people, a very large majority, think the library is important,” McKinley said.

The survey also revealed that Rockport residents feel the most appropriate total financial commitment to build a new library should be in the $2 million to $3 million range, of which the amount raised through property taxes should be between $1 million and $2 million.

McKinley and Selectman Tom Gray agreed that a budget in excess of $3 million for a new library might be a deterrent to voters in light of other municipal expenditures as well as the survey, in which many residents said they voted against the previous proposal because it was too expensive. The previous proposal called for a $4 million, 9,360-square-foot building, and involved creating parking spaces across from the library in Memorial Park.

After the board considered responses from the survey, Selectman Doug Cole said that he would be curious to hear Bates' thoughts on how to approach a prospective architect about taking on the project while a decision on site remained up in the air. Bates said that since assuming his role as town manager four years ago, the conversation about a new library facility invariably revolved around the “elephant in the room” -- the site.

“We're not going to get very far or a good foothold in the process without [the Select Board] picking a site,” said Bates, at which point Selectman Owen Casas asked how much time the board had to make a decision. Bates said time was of the essence, considering the amount of work involved in engaging an architect and holding meetings with the board and Library Director Ben Blackmon.

“The reality is, what's going to change in your thinking [in deciding a location]?” asked Bates.

“Personally, a lot could change for me,” Gray said, adding that he wanted to be able to “look people in the eye” after the board decided on a site, confident that they had explored both sites sufficiently.

“That's exactly what they did in February of 2017,” said Cole, referring to the decision made by the Select Board at that time, including McKinley and Casas, which decided to site the new library at 1 Limerock St. after the board assumed responsibility for the project.

Over the course of several public forums following the 2016 vote, two factions of residents emerged, one that felt a future library proposal should remain sited at 1 Limerock St., and the other that it should instead be constructed on the West Street lot where Rockport Elementary School once stood.

For months the board heard from members of the public, architects and town planners in an effort to determine which site was the more suitable location. After a special workshop Feb. 28, the Select Board voted in favor of 1 Limerock St. Its work since then has involved meeting with architects and members of the Library Committee to move forward with a new proposal.

Comments (1)
Posted by: Dale Hayward | Nov 15, 2017 03:29

Rockport needs to be proud of their select board because they can take the bull by the horns in spite of still so many questions. I should worry because Rockland will be headed for a new Library soon as I hear this one is falling apart at the seams. I want to be the first to suggest a floating library and then we will not have to fight over where it will be built. It could float all over the harbor from the breakwater to Lermonds Cove, to the South End landing ramp and serve everyone that has to walk. Give them money, they will build.

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