Trustees support Edgartown library move, but with conditions

Updated January 14, 2011.

The Edgartown library trustees voted 3-2 Tuesday evening to support a new library at the site of the old Edgartown school. But the approval comes with conditions that left design committee members and selectmen fuming.

“I was dumbfounded, absolutely dumbfounded,” Carl Watt, vice chairman of the library design committee, said Wednesday.

“They’ve seriously jeopardized our ability to even submit a grant, let alone have a successful grant.” Mr. Watt said.

After a joint meeting with selectmen Monday, Mr. Watt and other building design committee members expressed confidence that the trustees would support the move unconditionally.

Mr. Watt said Wednesday that trustees denied his request to speak at Tuesday’s meeting, and added that he walked out immediately after Tuesday’s vote.

Two selectmen described the trustees’ vote in harsh terms.

“It’s the voters who will make these decisions,” selectman Michael Donaroma said. Mr. Donaroma is also chairman of the library design committee. “They have no right to hold us hostage. We’re not going to give any credence to these ridiculous conditions.”

Selectman Art Smadbeck went even further, calling for trustees Pat Rose and Ellen Kaplan to step down.

“They should resign,” Mr. Smadbeck said. “They’re disruptive. This is the workings of two people trying to hijack this project. I just don’t understand. The town of Edgartown deserves better.”

Ms. Rose, chairman of the library trustees, disputed the idea that Tuesday’s vote jeopardizes state funding.

“I think we would probably sign the grant application,” Ms. Rose said in a phone conversation with The Times Wednesday. “I can’t see us voting not to apply. But I would be very uncomfortable about it.”

The conditions, proposed by Ms. Rose, required that the town not move to sell the Capt. Warren House until plans are complete, a grant is in hand, and voters authorize funds for the new library at the old school site. The trustees made their agreement contingent on the town keeping the Warren House driveway and parking lot for continued use at the current library. The trustees also demanded that the town vote to keep the Carnegie library building for a library-related purpose and other community uses.

“Those three issues were things that have concerned me,” Ms. Rose said Wednesday. “The committee has been pushing the trustees for a vote. I don’t know what the rush is. We have questions. The only thing we could do was say ‘I approve it when these things are taken care of.’”

Ms. Rose was joined by trustees Ellen Kaplan and Ned Southworth in the majority. Herb Foster and Ann Tyra, who is also a member of the design committee, voted no. Mr. Foster and Ms. Tyra expressed support for the move at a previous meeting, but without the conditions presented Tuesday.

The building design committee and selectmen are nearly unanimous in their belief that the current library site is no longer viable, because it is unlikely the state will award grant money for it, and because of opposition from town permitting boards and from neighbors. The building design committee abandoned plans to expand the North Water Street site, after the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners gave poor marks on design plans for the current library site in informal discussions.

Ms. Rose held out the possibility that future expansion of the current site is possible.

“I think that’s precipitous, until you have rock solid information about the new site, to sell property that could be needed to expand the North Water Street site,” Ms. Rose said.

Selectmen intend to ask voters at the annual town meeting in April to sell the Warren House in order to recoup some of the $3.5 million purchase price.

“If we’re moving to this other site,” Mr. Smadbeck said, “we need to sell that piece of property, which is no longer a part of the plan. The Warren House has to be sold in any case. It’s not going to be revived as a site. Holding on to it is irresponsible.”

Voters authorized purchase of the Warren House at a 2004 special town meeting by vote on a petitioned article. The historic building proved structurally unsuitable for use as part of a library expansion, according to engineers, because of strict state building codes. The historic building now sits vacant and deteriorating.

With interest on the 20-year bond used to buy the Warren house, design work on the current building project and a previously scrapped project, the town has committed or spent $5.5 million in pursuit of a new library.

At its meeting on Tuesday morning, the design committee got its first look at architectural drawings showing the new library at the old school site. Their reaction was very favorable.

At a design committee meeting Friday morning, committee members reported that state officials were very pleased with the latest plan. Committee members met with Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners informally on Wednesday in Boston. The mood at the design committee’s Friday meeting was conciliatory. Mr. Donaroma agreed to ask fellow selectmen to delay selling the Warren House until the town knows whether the state will fund part of the project, and whether voters will agree to fund the rest.

The committee rescheduled a public meeting to explain the project and answer questions from Edgartown voters. The committee canceled a January 12 meeting because of winter weather. The session is now set for Wednesday, January 19, at the Edgartown School. The meeting is scheduled to begin at 6 pm.

This article was revised from the print version to include developments from a meeting with state library officials, and rescheduling of the public meeting to update Edgartown residents on the status of the project.