New plans, old worries for Edgartown library design


After seeing preliminary design plans for two possible Edgartown Library expansion sites, selectman Michael Donaroma, a member of the Edgartown Library design committee, sized up the architect’s presentation.

“Once we get by the money,” Mr. Donaroma said in a phone conversation with The Times yesterday, “do we build a beautiful, charming, North Water Street, walk to Chappy ferry, walk to town library, with limited parking, hard to get to, no future expansion possible whatsoever? Or do we go to the old elementary school, which doesn’t quite have the character, but is in the center of town, near the elementary school, very easy to get to, plenty of parking, and unlimited future of expansion and use?”

Edgartown has struggled with the library design process since 2005, when voters agreed to buy the Captain Warren House near the current Edgartown Library for $3.5 million. The plan then was to incorporate the Warren house into a planned $11 million, 17,000 square foot library expansion project. Those plans fell apart when the Edgartown Library Foundation’s private fundraising effort fell far short of its goal.

Now the library design committee is looking at a scaled back version of the original design, incorporating the historic Carnegie library building on North Water Street, or building a new facility in the old Edgartown School near Upper Main Street.

On Monday, architects presented very preliminary plans for both sites to the design committee. Though she did not present cost estimates, architect Celia Imrey said costs for both sites are about the same.

“I don’t believe we’re going to have to make a decision based purely on budgets, because one is so much less expensive than the other,” Ms. Imrey said.

Those cost speculations do not factor in the possible sale of the Warren house, to finance part of the construction at the old Edgartown School. Any design at the North Water Street site would involve tearing down the Warren House and using the land for expansion.

Ms. Imrey’s preliminary designs included many configurations, and included rough floor plans only, not illustrations of how the new buildings might look.

For the North Water Street site, the architect envisions new construction wrapped around the present library.

“Parking, building massing, public space,” Ms. Imrey said. “Those are the three things that come into play. You make a bigger building, you lose parking, you lose public space.”

For the old elementary school site, she presented a plan including a long outdoor terrace across the front of the building, with two floors of library facilities in varying configurations inside.

“Compared to trying to fit everything in,” Ms. Imrey said, “we’re just flying around, there’s tons of space.”

Both library plans would include a “great room,” that would function for library services, but also be suitable for meetings and community events.

Interested onlookers packed the selectmen’s meeting room for the presentation, a consequence of the strong opinions circulating about the two sites. Project manager Rick Pomroy opened with an introduction that included six admonitions against public participation at this stage of the design committee’s process.

“We’re in the very early stages of the research,” Mr. Pomroy said. “I just want to make sure everyone is very, very clear. We’re not looking for public comment.”

The comments of design committee members also illustrated some of the reasons the long effort to build a new library has become divisive.

Design committee member Richard Knight had aesthetic concerns about the preliminary plans for the old Edgartown School. “It needs to look like a library,” Mr. Knight said. “It just feels like a rehabilitated school. It’s an odd space.”

Committee member Larry Mercier, who has publicly supported the old school site, criticized the preliminary plans for that site.

“You haven’t been very creative here,” Mr. Mercier told the architect. “You went to great lengths to show us a parking scheme at North Water Street, but there’s no parking scheme here.”

The committee asked Ms. Imrey to refine both plans and return to the design committee tomorrow with drawings and preliminary cost estimates for both sites.

“Consensus is not going to be easy,” design committee chairman Chris Scott said in a phone conversation with The Times Tuesday. “I do sense consensus on the basic premise that the town deserves a better library facility.”

At tomorrow’s session, Mr. Donaroma intends to encourage a discussion of how each project will get funded.

“If we are going to get more money from the town, we would have to have a fabulous plan that everyone agreed with, and then maybe,” Mr. Donaroma said Wednesday. “The economy the way it is, if the library trustees keep pushing us to build something we can’t afford, we’ll wind up with nothing.”

The Edgartown Library Foundation issued a statement Wednesday through its publicist.

“Regardless of which site the building design committee chooses to develop, The Edgartown Library Foundation is committed to building a public/private partnership to support our community’s library,” said foundation chairman Gwynneth ‘Baba’ Smith, in the statement.

Publicist Danielle Pendergraft said the foundation has “raised over $1 million in cash and pledges, and has spent considerable funds to date, in advancement of this project; however, continued fulfillment of many of their donors’ pledges is contingent upon the Carnegie location as the chosen site for development.”