Rockingham Free Public Library (Zachary P. Stephens/Reformer)
Rockingham Free Public Library (Zachary P. Stephens/Reformer)
Tuesday May 7, 2013

BELLOWS FALLS -- Questions and confusion linger about the Rockingham Free Public Library's immediate future following a heated special meeting of the facility's board of trustees Monday.

Tempers flared at the meeting, held at Village Square Booksellers, as members of the public voiced their displeasure over the trustees' decision to close the library temporarily for renovation. People were also unhappy with the way the board handled the special meeting, with many feeling they had been deceived by the trustees. There were roughly 35 people in attendance.

The board voted on Thursday, May 1, to close the library so Engelberth Construction Inc. can finish the renovation, which is expected to be completed by August. The debate now is how to deal with the library's day-to-day operations during its closure. Trustee Chairwoman Janice Mitchell-Love previously told the Reformer the two options involve utilizing the Bellows Falls Waypoint Center -- with one renting the facility for all general library services (including books and computers) and the other simply using it to host the library's programs and seminars (as well as the computers).

But several people - including library staff - have said the Waypoint Center cannot be used because it has received federal monies to serve as a tourist center. One alternative mentioned was the community area of a local bank.

Both plans involve some sort of reduction in staff - and the public took exception to this.

Deb Wetzel -- who identified herself as a former library trustee, volunteer and Friend of the Library -- addressed the board with one of the first public comments of the evening.

"The board and chair have a different agenda that is creating stress and conflict within and without the library, and not listening to the patrons of the library," she read from a prepared statement. "We look forward to a resolution that does not include paying for the renovation project on the backs of the employees We have the best staff and director, they cannot be replaced. They are doing their job efficiently Are you?"

Former Trustee Bob Hewitt said it would be impossible to build a new staff as good as the current one if its members are furloughed. There are three full-time employees and seven part-time workers at the library.

"I have been laughed at - literally laughed at - when I have spoken to possible candidates to work for the library when I tell them how much we can pay," he said. "You have a staff right now which is enviable. Don't screw it up."

There was much hostility flowing through the air, with many people talking over one another and bickering back and forth with the board. There was negative reaction when members of the public were told each individual would be allotted one minute for comment, instead of the three mentioned on the meeting's warning. When people protested, Mitchell-Love said a revised warning was issued and posted Saturday night.

She acknowledged that the situation is "a catastrophe" and wants to get the building renovated while taking the least amount of hours away from library employees as possible. The personnel matter was further discussed in executive session that lasted until shortly before 8 p.m.

Houlne listed off the figures she had been asked to compile for the meeting but there questions and objections to them.

"We have to assess them because several people have already come up with corrections," Mitchell-Love told the Reformer after the meeting had adjourned. "We are working our way toward something."

Domenic Poli can be reached at dpoli@reformer.com; or 802-254-2311, ext. 277. You can follow Domenic @dpoli_reformer.