Edgartown library naming rights draw criticism

The new Edgartown Library will be built on the site of the old Edgartown School. — Photo courtesy of Edgartown Library

Edgartown selectmen applied the brakes to the first draft of a proposal to offer naming rights for the new Edgartown library, planned for the site of the old Edgartown School.

Representatives of the Edgartown library board of trustees, and the Edgartown library foundation presented a draft policy for accepting donations at Monday’s meeting.

The policy outlined procedures and guidelines for accepting gifts, which must be accepted by vote of the board of selectmen. It included a provision for donors to get naming rights for their donations.

“The library offers specific naming opportunities for different rooms and locations in the library,” the board of trustees wrote in their draft policy. “Donations made either directly to the library, the Friends of the Edgartown Public Library, or the Edgartown Library Foundation for any such naming opportunity must be approved by the library board of trustees and the Edgartown board of selectmen. The donors for any listed naming opportunity shall be recognized by a plaque or a nameplate, of a design and placement approved by the board of trustees, on the room or area reserved by such donation.”

Selectman Art Smadbeck thanked the trustees for working to clarify the policy, but said taxpayers voted at the April town meeting to fund construction of the new library.

“We’re not looking for money to build the library any more,” Mr. Smadbeck said. “I haven’t really been able to get my mind around this naming thing. I think we have to pretty much get this off the table.”

Selectman Margaret Serpa also urged further study. “I’m not ready to vote on this yet,” she said. “This needs, in my opinion, to go to the town counsel, and I think this needs to go to the auditors. The naming policy bothers me a little bit. It took a lot of work, the trustees did a lot of work to get this passed. The taxpayers are the ones that are building this library.”

The Edgartown library foundation, a nonprofit organization that raises private funds for the library, has donations and pledges in hand from a fundraising drive for a previous library project. That project, an expansion of the North Water Street location, was scrapped when fundraising fell short of its goals.

“We have several donors who have pledged money, who want to go above and beyond their tax dollars,” foundation president Susan Cahoon said. “I don’t want to leave them just sitting out there. There are some folks that want to contribute more than their tax dollars.”

Julie Lively, chairman of the library board of trustees, said library officials don’t want to go back to those donors and tell them their donations are not wanted.

“What this will allow us to do is to go above and beyond what’s currently in the budget to do something really beautiful,” Ms. Lively said. “We wanted to be able to satisfy the Edgartown Library Foundation donors, as well as get a policy down in writing. We really need to know whether we can go back to donors.”

Ms. Lively estimated that about $275,000 in pledges is available for naming opportunities. She said an additional $300,000 in unspecified pledges for the previous library project may be available for the new project.

Michael Donaroma, chairman of the board of selectmen, noted that town counsel Ron Rappaport has urged the town to keep donations to the private library foundation separate from the actions of the board of trustees or selectmen.

“Ron has made it very clear, that’s a foundation thing,” Mr. Donaroma said. “It has nothing to do with us.”

In a phone conversation with The Times Tuesday, Ms. Lively stressed that the board of trustees, the selectmen, and the foundation are committed to working together on the issue.

“We’re in a very unique situation right now in that people have donated money for a project that doesn’t exist any more,” Ms. Lively said. “We want to make sure we can still utilize those dollars for the new library. This is the first of many conversations we’ll have with selectmen in terms of how to utilize those dollars to the benefit of the new library, and still recognize the donors. The trustees and the selectmen have a great working relationship and we’re sure we can work something out that reflects the generosity and the intent of the donors.”

Town officials expect a state grant to cover $6.4 million of the estimated $11 million library project. In April, voters overwhelmingly approved a Proposition 2.5 override question authorizing selectmen to borrow $4.9 million to finance the rest of the project.