Trustees, design committee clash over Edgartown library plans


The Edgartown library trustees Tuesday declined to endorse the latest plan to build a new library at the site of the Old Edgartown School.

Though it was clear to most observers that a majority of the trustees favored the move, the board tabled the discussion, to wait for more information about the design and costs. Members of the library design committee, who requested the endorsement, said the trustees’ lack of action was disheartening and discouraging. Michael Donaroma, a selectman and chairman of the design committee said, however, he was not surprised at the lack of commitment.

“In the last six years they’ve made nothing but bad decisions, why would we be surprised that they made another one?” Mr. Donaroma said in a phone conversation with The Times Wednesday.

As the legal authority to receive state library funding, the library must apply for state grants administered by the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners. If the trustees vote not to support the grant proposal, that decision would effectively end efforts to build a new library, according to Mr. Donaroma.

Edgartown has already committed or spent $5.5 million in two separate library building efforts, including purchase of the Capt. Warren House property, feasibility studies, architectural and engineering work, and administrative work.

Selectmen have called both the trustees and the design committee to a meeting on Monday. Mr. Donaroma said the purpose of the session will be to find out whether the trustees intend to support the latest building plans.

“Because if they don’t, it’s over,” he said. “There’s no need to spend money on architects and engineers, and waste taxpayers money.”

Motion, commotion

Trustee Ann Tyra, who represents the trustees to the library design committee, briefly summarized the committee’s decisions first to focus on the current North Water Street site, then shift to the old school site. The shift happened after the latest plans for North Water Street were given poor marks in an informal session with state officials.

“I’ve been asked by the committee to ask the trustees to move in support of the new design, at least the new location, committing to apply for the grant,” Ms. Tyra said. She formally made the motion before the trustees. The discussion that followed between the trustees and other members of the design committee was sharp and pointed.

Trustee chairman Pat Rose said the responsibility for the Carnegie building, meaning the current town library, and what happens to it, are important to the library trustees.

Design committee vice-chairman Carl Watt said both recent efforts to expand the North Water Street site ended in failure, the latest because of the December 14 meeting with state library officials.

“It was very clear to me that we would not have a successful grant application,” Mr. Watt said. “This project cannot be built without the grant. Our goal as a committee was to prepare as strong a proposal as we could. It was made very clear at the start that selectmen considered the existing Carnegie library important. I can’t see the town abandoning this wonderful old building.”

“But we don’t have any assurance of that,” Ms. Rose said. “The importance of this building and the generosity, both from the Carnegie Foundation and the donation of the property to build this library, are not inconsequential. I don’t hear anybody talking about preserving this library, and the symbol that it is.”

Trustee Ellen Kaplan questioned the cost of building on the old school site, compared with the cost of the abandoned plans to build on North Water Street. She also wanted more information on the design plans.

“I, for one, cannot vote for this motion, given the amount of information,” Ms. Kaplan said.

“With all due respect, you’re being extremely shortsighted,” Mr. Watt said. “You’re saying the important thing is to preserve this library. The state hasn’t said that. If you vote not to support this, you’re saying there is no grant, and you’re stuck with what you have here. That seems to me, awful for the town of Edgartown.”

Ms. Tyra then withdrew her motion. She said many of the trustees’ questions would be answered in the coming week, as the architects progress with design plans. “I think it’s fair to allow us time as a group to look, to question,” Ms. Tyra said. “Right now we just need to be able to take the time.”

“There’s no reason for us to make the decision today,” Ms. Rose said.

Design committee members said the trustees’ decision to table the motion for later discussion would not affect the tight timetable for completing the design work or the grant application. But they said without the trustees’ endorsement, the grant application would be unnecessarily weak.

“What this committee really needs is to build consensus,” Mr. Donaroma told library trustees at Tuesday’s meeting. “This work that we’ve done is all for naught if we can’t get the trustees on board tonight. A ‘no comment’ tonight is not building consensus. You’re the key to the whole thing. We’ve come to you with a plan for a new library, which is what I thought the idea was.”

The trustees agreed to table the issue and revisit it at their next meeting, on January 11.

But before moving to other business, trustees Ned Southworth and Herbert Foster said they favored the plan to move to the old school site. Mr. Foster used a baseball analogy to illustrate his evolving position.

“As an old Brooklyn Dodger fan,” Mr. Foster said, “it took me 50 years to start rooting for Boston. I finally let it go. Enough already. If we want a new library, we’re going to have to move, and I’m ready to go. If we don’t move, we’re going to fall behind. As much as I love the Carnegie, I’m ready to move.”

Following the meeting, Ms. Tyra said she supports the move. The votes of Mr. Southworth, Mr. Foster, and Ms. Tyra would have been a majority, if the measure had come to a vote and the three trustees voted for the measure.