Town discusses library’s future By Jesse Scardina
KITTERY, Maine — The Town Council and Rice Public Library Board of Directors met Monday night in a workshop setting to discuss the potential of purchasing a piece of land abutting the Kittery Community Center and building a 20,000-square-foot library on the property off of School Street.
The two-hour workshop covered several topics while bordering on contentious at times, with one board member walking out midway through the meeting. Topics that were broached included potential parking and construction concerns at the proposed location, whether the current Rice Public Library location could accommodate the library’s needs with additional space or if the historic location costs too much to maintain and staff, and how much costs would increase or decrease at the proposed location.
In addition to the Town Council and library board, Mike Lassel of South Berwick-based Lassel Architects was on hand to discuss his proposal, with the help of the library board, of a single-floor, energy efficient structure off School Street, which would also add roughly 60 parking spaces for both the library and community center.
There was also another design proposal, submitted unsolicited by ARQ Architects in Kittery, which included a multi-level parking garage and several additions to the Rice building. The library board had no say or knowledge that the ARQ Architects design was developed.
Library Director Lee Perkins expressed concerns about the redesign at the current location, saying that a multi-floor library with many box-like rooms is more difficult to staff than that of the single-floor proposal off School Street. There are also concerns about maintaining the Rice building, which is roughly 150 years old.
“The mission of a library is to provide services, not take care of a historic building,” Perkins said. “This is what’s driving us, to find the best use of library money.”
Several town councilors agreed with that concept, but were skeptical on the need to construct a new, 20,000 square-foot building when a plan involving renovating the current location hasn’t been completely vetted.
“We need to have more public conversations about this,” said Councilwoman Judy Spiller. “I have reservations about building a 20,000-square-foot building.”
Talk of whether the current location is suitable turned contentious when library board member Mandy Cool responded to a question from Town Council Chairman Jeff Thomson about not wanting the attraction of the library to be a parking garage. Thomson asked why it had rented out spaces to Portsmouth Naval Shipyard workers, which prompted Cool to walkout, calling Thomson “the rudest person (she’s) ever met.”
Councilman Jeffrey Pelletier stated that he’s in favor of the proposed library location abutting the community center, but said that it’s ultimately a community decision as to whether it’s best for the library to make its current location work or move near the community center.
“I think a library on the Kittery Community Center campus makes the most sense for the community,” he said. “With that said, I also hear concerns of my fellow councilors that we haven’t examined every possibility of the library on that site. I want to be able to rule out that location because the library can’t do what it wants there.”
Members of the board of directors and Perkins said that they’ve examined the proposal involving the current location, and that it raises questions in terms of staffing and maintenance, but some of the members are open to the town vetting the location with the architecture firm that donated the proposal.
“There needs to be broader input than a self-perpetuating board,” Thomson said. “I’m just asking questions. I’m doing my job. That’s why I want all options vetted, so it’s best for the future of Kittery. I’m adamant that we don’t put blinders on and go one way with this.”
The land for the new proposed location is currently owned by Barry Fitzpatrick, who was at the workshop table to answer any questions or communicate concerns, with his main issue being that he will sell the board of directors the land with the caveat of a library being built there.
The cost of the parcel of land that would be sold hasn’t been estimated yet, Perkins said.
Another primary concern of the council included whether a new facility would cost more or less to staff, while it was made clear that with high-efficiency amenities and the potential of solar panels on the roof, it would be cheaper to maintain.
“The council is looking at the bottom line, the library is looking at what’s best for its patrons,” Pelletier said. “We need to work to find the middle-ground. I think if the board takes that half-step of detailing how much it will cost to staff, what the inside will look like, that would help.”
Other issues concerning the council were any impediments to the community center during proposed construction and the safety of children attending Head Start if the parking lot expands toward the annex building. Solutions to those issues included potential speed bumps, cross walks and signage, while construction times could be coordinated with the community center.
Moving forward, Thomson said the council will be reaching out to ARQ Architects to invite them to a similar workshop setting to discuss its proposal and that the library board of directors is welcome to attend. Perkins said in the meantime, they will be working on projected staffing and maintenance costs at both the proposed new location and the current one with the renovations.