BELLOWS FALLS -- The Rockingham Selectboard adopted a non-binding resolution Tuesday stating its disapproval of the decision by the Rockingham Free Public Library's board of trustees to close the facility for two months for renovation.
The board of trustees 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 options on how to deal with the library's day-to-day operations, the trustees maintain, include temporarily laying off the library's 10 employees. The decision has become controversial in Rockingham, as many say they are unhappy the workers will suffer due to the expense of the project. There are three full-time employees and seven part-time workers at the library.
"Whereas the Rockingham Selectboard considers the library an intricate part of our community, whereas there is no suitable place for a temporary library for two months, it is the opinion of this meeting that the library should not be shut down during renovation," Selectboard member Ann DiBernardo read aloud, adding that reasonable accommodations should be made to allow all citizens access to the existing building and its collections. "The Selectmen consider this decision to be detrimental to the children of this community and to the taxpayers."
A round of applause came from some members of the audience after DiBernardo finished reading the resolution. The motion passed unanimously, though Selectboard member Josh Hearne was not present.
The Selectboard then voted to deny the library use of the Bellows Falls Waypoint Center for its general library services as well as programs and seminars.
Library Trustee Chairwoman Janice Mitchell-Love said the plan was to move the library's services (as well as books and computers) to the Waypoint Center while Engelberth finishes the renovation. However, Selectboard Chairman Tom MacPhee explained it cannot be used for that purpose because it has federal monies to serve as a tourist center and nothing else.
The trustees must now find another location to house its service. The community space of a bank in The Square has been mentioned as a possibility.
The Selectboard meeting came one day after a special meeting of the trustees was held at Village Square Booksellers. Roughly 35 people showed up to express their distaste for the way the situation has unfolded and tempers flared from time to time.
Mitchell-Love acknowledged that the situation is "a catastrophe" and said she wants to get the building renovated while taking the least amount of hours away from library employees as possible.
Library Director Celina Houlne listed off the figures she had been asked to put together, regarding what steps the library employees would like to take, but some of her points were called into question. Mitchell-Love said more work and research must be done.
"We have to assess them because several people have already come up with corrections," she told the Reformer on Monday. "We are working our way toward something."
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