Board proposes library bond vote
By STEPHANIE M. PETERS STAFF WRITER | December 17,2009
The Board of Finance passed a resolution this week that takes the ongoing question of how, when and to what extent the city will repair Rutland Free Library's Court Street home out of the hands of the aldermen.
It also establishes that the library will need to make a certain commitment to the city before officials allow the community to vote on bonding for up to $1.2 million in repairs it's estimated the building needs.
Mayor Christopher Louras informed both members of the library trustee board and the city's aldermen Tuesday that a bonding question will only be placed on a ballot for voters to approve if the library agrees to remain in the building until the bond debt is paid off.
"We don't want to be saddled with a building that's carrying a significant amount of debt that we might be looking to sell in five years," he said. "I firmly believe that before we put the money into the building at the top of the hill there has to be a commitment it will be used for the library."
The board, which is composed of Louras, Treasurer Wendy Wilton and Board of Aldermen President David Allaire, is charged with maintaining responsibility for the city's buildings under the charter.
However, for any repair exceeding $500 it must receive the approval of the Board of Aldermen, meaning that if significant repairs do move forward they will still require the aldermen's sign-off.
The time commitment the library would have to make varies considerably depending on what percentage of the repairs the trustees and city agree to tackle; a $1.2 million bond would likely carry a 20-year payment plan, while the $300,000 or so that has been identified by NBF Architects as immediate needs could be repaid in five years with the help of grants, according to Louras.
Still, repairing the building is only one option the organization is considering as a remedy to building problems, mainly flooding due to the deterioration of its roof and foundation, which have caused service interruptions over the past year.
The alternative is to move altogether, with the Berwick project, proposed for the corner of Center and Wales streets, as the most likely destination.
According to library trustees, it will still be some time before they receive specific information from the Rutland County Housing Trust about the proposed building and without it they cannot seriously weigh their options. In a recent letter to Alderwoman Sharon Davis, chairwoman of the community and economic development committee where Tuesday's meeting took place, William P. Anderson, chairman of the Board of Trustees, estimated that if the organization chooses to move to the Berwick site the move would still be about five years out.
As Library Director Paula Baker and the trustees digested Louras' news Tuesday, the aldermen did most of the talking.
Several members of the board said this is the most common issue they hear about from their constituents; Alderman Dave Dress estimated he's spoken with 100 residents, all of whom have said "don't even think of moving the library."
On the other side of the equation, Alderman Christopher Robinson said the only reason he hears for remaining in the building is childhood nostalgia. He said he's educated the eight constituents who've approached him on the subject about why, from an operational and programming standpoint, it would be better for the library to move. Now all eight are proponents of the move, he said.
"As are you," Allaire said.
Trustee Paul Gallo told the committee he pushed for the building report to be done in the hopes that quantifying the building's need would lead some in the community to step up and pledge to donate.
"But I think financial sensibility prevails," he said. "If the city won't commit, why should they?" he said. "I also think it's very important to point out to voters that we're not going to them for a new, multimillion-dollar facility."
During the course of the conversation, Anderson asked if the city would be willing to sell the Court Street building to the library association – a question he said had been posed to him.
"The reality is, as far as I'm concerned, we'd quitclaim it to you tonight, but I don't think you want that," Louras said.
The library trustees also met Wednesday night, a meeting Anderson said Wednesday afternoon he anticipated would focus on discussing the news they received Tuesday. However, with several trustees and Baker expected to be absent, he said he thought the discussion could also be pushed to the next meeting.