Edgartown presses foundation to release promised library donations

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

A long-simmering dispute between the Edgartown Library Foundation and the town’s library building committee involving financial issues surfaced at the Edgartown selectmen’s meeting Monday over promised donations.

Building committee vice-chairman Carl Watt asked the selectmen for help in pushing the foundation, a private organization, to release $175,000 in promised donations it has raised from private donors to support the library project.

The money was originally raised for a plan to expand the original library on North Water Street, but that plan was eventually scrapped. The foundation polled its donors and received permission to donate the money to the new library planned for the site of the old Edgartown School.

The building committee is concerned that the library foundation has not yet transferred the money to the town’s accounts. “We don’t understand their reluctance to turn over the money to the building committee,” Mr. Watt told selectmen. “This money was raised for the library. My wife and I were among the donors.”

Selectman Art Smadbeck added his criticism. “Can you raise money for a town project, and then not turn that over?” he asked. “What are you doing with that money? It seems to me you have some kind of legal obligation.”

Chairman Michael Donaroma, the selectmen’s representative to the building committee, said the committee is less than satisfied with the committment of the library foundation.

“We’ve been after what their balance was, how much they wanted to offer, or not offer, for years,” Mr. Donaroma said. “We’ve gotten different answers.”

Selectmen agreed to ask the library foundation officers to attend a future meeting to discuss the issues.

Foundation surprised

In a telephone interview Wednesday, Susan Cahoon, president of the Edgartown Library Foundation, told The Times she was taken by surprise by the building committee’s concern, and said there has been no change in the foundation’s position.

“We don’t really understand what’s going on, why there was any concern at all,” Ms. Cahoon said. “The funds are in the bank, just waiting for some progress on the project.”

She called for more disclosure from the building committee about the progress of the new library project.

“Do they really need $175,000 today, I don’t know,” Ms. Cahoon said. “We’re more concerned about the status of the project. We’ve heard they’ve had to reduce the size of it a little bit because of budget concerns, we know there are concerns with the school next door, impacting the construction schedule. We did say the donors had given us permission to release those funds based on certain criteria, and at this point we don’t know that those criteria have been met.”

Ms. Cahoon questioned whether the project is on schedule, and whether there is enough money to complete the project, but she declined to elaborate the source of her concerns.

“All of the aspects of the project moving forward have not been completed,” she said “Do they have enough money to complete it? This is just what we’re hearing. We’d like to have some disclosure on that.”

She said no one from the building committee has contacted the foundation about the donations recently, and the foundation has not reached out to the building committee or selectmen.

On schedule

In a phone interview Wednesday, Mr. Watt responded to the notion that the library project is off track. He said the library project is on schedule and necessary funds are in place. “I don’t know where they would get that idea,” he said.

Mr. Watt said as the architects and the building committee refined the project from the original plans, they decided to reduce the size of the new library from 15,600 square feet to 14,600 square feet. He said the adjustment is well within the requirements of the state grant, has the approval of the library board of trustees, and was debated and approved in open meetings of the library building committee.

Mr. Watt said that the money appropriated by taxpayers and the matching grants from the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners is enough to build the library. He said decisions on how to use the private donations must be made now.

“From the building committee’s point of view, a promise to give us money in the future isn’t something we can put in the bank,” Mr. Watt said. “If we get this money from the foundation, it gives us a little more of a fiscal cushion, and it might give us room to choose a higher level of finishes or equipment.”

What’s in a name?

Naming rights for the new library remain a sticking point for the foundation. “We would like to see the selectmen address the naming opportunity questions,” Ms. Cahoon told The Times Wednesday. “That would certainly generate a substantial amount of money.”

The foundation had plans to offer naming opportunities for rooms, facilities, and areas of the new library for donors who contributed certain amounts.

The library board of directors approved that plan, but at their June 2012 meeting, selectmen rejected the idea.

Selectmen said taxpayers have appropriated money to build the library, and they questioned whether it is appropriate to offer naming rights to private donors.