By a heavy majority, Chilmark voters this week approved plans to expand and renovate their public library. At a Monday night special town meeting, more than 300 voters filled the Community Center to overflowing and strongly backed the project.
Everett H. Poole, town moderator, delayed the start of the meeting so all registered voters could gain access. Seating was limited, and many stood along the walls. This was the largest gathering of residents at a special town meeting in the memory of most voters. Mr. Poole called the meeting to order 20 minutes after the scheduled start.
It was a complicated meeting from a procedural standpoint. But the sense of the public sentiment was clear: Nearly two-thirds of the town's registered voters favored the $2.1 million project.
Deborah Durland of the architectural firm that designed the Chilmark School started the meeting with a brief description of how the library building plan evolved. She said the final design was the product of input from Chilmark residents and that it made the best use of available space in the center of town. She said project costs include significant renovation work needed for the old library structure. She said if the voters were to turn down the project, they'd still face spending between $200,000 and $400,000 in much-needed work to repair the old building.
Selectman Alex Preston, who has been publicly critical of the library project, said: "Everyone is committed to the future of the library. No one wants a war."
Norman Freed, chairman of the library building committee and a library trustee, told voters his committee had worked deliberately on getting the most cost-effective project. He said members of his committee visited libraries on the Island and on the Cape as part of their research. "We attended workshops," he said. While there were compromises, he said, "The committee is entirely enthusiastic about the project."
Selectman Warren Doty advocated for the project and said the voters should appropriate the $300,000 which has been asked of them. He said it was the most cost-effective renovation project the town had seen. "This is one of the best financial proposals this town could be presented with," he said. "There is 85 per cent of the cost being carried by state grant and private donations."
He said 65 towns across the state had applied for money for their towns. The state board of library commissioners had $17 million to spend and Chilmark was one of only a handful of libraries that received money.
Robbie Dietz, a resident, said he was opposed to the project. "I've tried to negotiate with the building committee," he said. "This is a design that comes from off-Island." He said the library is a reminder of the initial stages of the building of the school, that the town needs to look for a library more suitable for the town. "It is never too late to say no," he said.
Selectman Frank Fenner said he was more concerned about the flat roof on the addition causing problems later on when snow and ice accumulate.
In the end, the voting in the Community Center took longer than the floor debate. By Australian ballot, citizens approved the design of the library by a vote of 184 to 119.
Article 2 called for appropriating $300,000 toward the project, and thus required a two-thirds majority vote for passage. The meeting took a change in direction when Leonard Jason Jr. asked the moderator if the article might be amended so that the $300,000 be taken from available cash, since the town coffers had a reserve of $500,000.
Mr. Jason told the moderator that it would serve two purposes. "We came here to build the library. The majority wants it. The second, is that it would cost the taxpayers nothing. We should do it."
Mr. Jason's suggestion received applause, but it also drew protests from critics of the project, who by now realized they had the votes to block a two-thirds majority.
Mr. Poole turned to look at Ron Rappaport, town counsel, for guidance. "I don't know what I would do without a lawyer," Mr. Poole said, after Mr. Rappaport nodded his head in the affirmative, saying the amendment was acceptable from a legal standpoint.
The article was amended by a simple majority in a voice vote.
Mr. Dietz told the voters that the finance committee members felt the project was irresponsible. Deborah Hancock of the finance committee went to the microphone and said she and others were opposed to the project.
Someone in the audience asked that the chairman of the finance committee speak on the matter.
Arnold Geiger, chairman of the finance committee, said he had concerns about taking the $300,000 from free cash when there are still quite a few months left in the fiscal year. "We could have unforeseen expenses. But this is the difference between a loose sneaker and a tight shoe."
Finance committee member Doug Sederholm said: "I agree with Dr. Geiger. I think we can make it. It will be tight, but we can do it." Mr. Sederholm said the way the library project is funded makes fiscal sense.
Lois Mayhew told the voters that the efforts put toward the library by the library trustees and their building committee have been exemplary. "You are not going to see a more committed committee," she said. She said critics need not worry about the library trustees coming back to taxpayers for more money for furniture and computers. She said the friends of the library have raised money in the past for these items, and will do so again in the future.
Two hours after the meeting began, Chilmark voters, again by Australian ballot, approved Article 2 as amended by a margin of 181 to 97.