We truly honor the work of the trustees of Rutland Free Library and its staff members, knowing full well that their efforts contribute much to our community. However, we do not understand their resistance to include the public more fully in discussions and decisions about the future of the public library.
We sincerely want to understand the pros and cons of staying at the current location and of the proposed move to the library at the former College of St. Joseph. As well, we want to explore what other solutions might be available, particularly ones that would retain the library’s location close to or within the city center.
We are asking the trustees to give the community 6 to 8 weeks to partake in weekly Zoom-type meetings to gather ideas and seriously analyze the path forward. To that end, we would like these conversations to focus on:
— What would be necessary to retain the library at its current location on Court Street?
— What are the pros and cons of moving to an existing library at the former College of St. Joseph?
— What current buildings downtown are available to be renovated or properties used to house a modern library that would contribute to a viable, walkable downtown?
Given the challenges facing our small city as a result of the pandemic and its impact on our downtown center, we must re-emphasize our request that the trustees consider the impact the proposed move would have on the health of our downtown, its businesses, social and educational facilities, and its cultural opportunities.
In discussions with others interested in learning more about the proposed move, we were reminded that Percival Clement made several large investments in downtown Rutland in the 1880s to counter Redfield Proctor’s obsession with fracturing the well-being of Rutland by breaking it apart into what we now know as West Rutland, Proctor, Rutland Town and Rutland City. We see similarities in moving the library to the southwest corner of the city onto, ironically, the Clement property. We wonder how our city forebears such as Percival Clement and lifetime Rutland Free Library donor Nella Grimm Fox would respond to this proposal. We’ve seen the deleterious impacts on a community’s health in other parts of Vermont when city leaders have not used sufficient due diligence in assuring potential investors are reliable.
We can learn much from the open forums sponsored by the Rutland Creative Economy in 2006 and 2010 that resulted in successful community projects (the Bike Path, Wonderfeet Kids’ Museum, Friday Night Live and others) inspired by the networking of the local people. This is the kind of discussion we would like to see take place in regard to the future of the community library. We recognize the community efforts that resulted in the rehabilitation of our beautiful and essential Paramount Theater.
We might find inspiration from other Vermont communities as well, such as nearby Brandon, which looked at ways to support its business center by presenting itself as “a vibrant, walkable center of art galleries, studios, shops and restaurants.”
Rutland City certainly could do likewise with its already existing resources including its schools, stores, places of worship, restaurants and service clubs, along with Community College of Vermont, the Paramount, the Boy’s & Girl’s Club, the Rutland County Farmers Market, and the many organizations that are part of the Rutland Art Ramble.
The Ramble, a walkable tour of Rutland, supports the Carving Studio and Sculpture Center, 77 ART, Stone Valley Art, Castleton University Bank Gallery, The Mint, Wonderfeet Kids’ Museum and the Chaffee Art Center, just up the hill by our beautiful Main Street Park. It is an example of a way to combine resources to increase visibility and participation.
In promoting these resources, the Downtown Rutland Partnership notes that healthy communities “explore traditional and nontraditional retail, service and office opportunities — to bring convenience and fun to every customer and business owner as we weave community into the Downtown Rutland experience.” Certainly a vibrant library within walking distance of the commercial center should be part of that experience.
Beyond that, we have a list of important questions about the logistics, costs and assurances as they relate to the proposed move to CSJ. These include but are not limited to:
— Whose decision was it to exclude the public from discussions about the proposed move? Were the trustees influenced by either Heritage Credit Union or Heartland Communities?
— We understand the library received a complete evaluation and architectural proposal to renovate the current library before learning of the availability of the CSJ library. Did the trustees consider the impact of the move from the city center in its deliberations?
— What consideration was made or will be made in regard to the future of the historic building on Court Street where the library has long been situated?
— How long will preparations, construction, the move itself and organization of the new library take? What will that cost? Will library services be unavailable during that time?
— What due diligence have the trustees done to ensure the long-term viability of the CSJ building?
— What plans are in the works to ensure public transportation to the proposed library?
— What plans are in the works to make the routes to the proposed location safe for walkers?
— What specifically is the relationship between the library and Heartland into the foreseeable future or will the library be solely responsible for the upkeep, maintenance, etc., of the proposed building and environs?
Six to 8 weeks of open discussions to hear the facts, consider the possibilities and work together creatively on this issue is not too much to ask of those who care about our community center of learning, communication and culture.
Julie Kuhn Fredette, of Chittenden; Annette Smith, of Danby; Marilyn McDonald and John Cole, of Mendon; Kathryn Adams, Royal and Zip Barnard, Susan Beard, Winifred Chevalier, Mary Crowley, Yvonne Daley, Marion Williams Farrell, Jeff and Carol Freeman, Kit Lane, Lopi Laroe, the Rev. Shirley Oskamp, Ada and Michael Pezzetti Sr., MaryAnne Ries, Judy Robinson, Jacob Sherman, all of Rutland; Leigh Adams, Barbara Capman, Barbara Noyes Pulling, Esther and Dan Swett, all of Rutland Town.