The Rockingham Free Public Library in Bellows Falls. (Reformer file photo)
The Rockingham Free Public Library in Bellows Falls. (Reformer file photo)
Thursday May 23, 2013

BELLOWS FALLS -- The Rockingham Free Public Library Board of Trustees decided at a meeting Wednesday to try to utilize the community space of a former local bank for the library's services while the building's renovation is completed.

The trustees voted Saturday to shut down the library until at least the end of July so Engelberth Construction Co. can finish the renovation and make sure an elevator in the building is compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. The ensuing debate has centered around, among other aspects, where to host the library's services, seminars and computers.

The trustees voted to go with the Merchants Bank building, though Trustee Chairwoman Janice Mitchell-Love said all the details still need to work out with the landlord. The trustees also had considered the Bellows Falls Waypoint Center and the Green Mountain Railroad train station before opting for the bank.

According to documents obtained at the meeting, elements such as cost, insurance, size, Internet access, hours of availability and air conditioning systems had to be factored in to the decision. No amount of rent was determined for the Waypoint Center and though it has one phone line the library would have to share space and its staff would be required to provide tourist information. Also, there is slow Internet and limited capacity.

It was initially thought by many that the Waypoint Center could not be used because it has received federal monies to serve as a tourist center.


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However, Rockingham Finance Director/Municipal Manager Chip Stearns told the Reformer that, even though the Rockingham Selectboard voted to deny the library access to the Waypoint Center, Wright did some research and told him it can be utilized because it can be used for the dual purposes of a tourist center and a quasi-library. He said the Waypoint Center, like any library, serves as an information center of sorts.

Library Director Celina Houlne said using the train station would require a monthly donation of $200 or $300 (instead of rent) and a new phone line. The Internet is slow and there is no security system, resulting in a break-in last week. The library would have to share space and function with Amtrak, Green Mountain Railroad and all other organizations that use the space. There also is no air conditioning or walls for bookshelves there.

Rent at the former bank would be $500 per month and the rental agreement would allow for renter's insurance. The facility is 2,200 square feet in size -- all of which would be dedicated to the library's services -- and has a security system. It is located in The Square and it close to parking spaces on the street.

The trustees also voted, 5-1, Wednesday to approve an elaborated corrective action plan against Houlne. Pat Fowler was the lone trustee to oppose the motion.

Wright told the Reformer the plan was implemented Wednesday after an executive session due to a letter of complaint against Houlne. She said she could not comment on who sent the letter or what it contained.

Wright said she and Mitchell-Love will meet with Celina in a private meeting at 10 a.m. Friday to try to rectify the situation. She said there will be weekly check-ins.

Stearns also gave a brief update on the progress at the library. He said everyone is working quickly and diligently on the project. He said sprayfoam insulation will take place on May 28 and 29 and the sticky substance applied to an old carpet underneath a floor that was torn up is being tested for any asbestos or lead.

The trustees' decision to temporarily close the library has been a source of controversy, as many members of the public feel the trustees have an ulterior motive or hidden agenda behind their drive for closure.

During the public comment portion of the meeting, Houlne' s husband, Steve Geller, attempted to address the board as executive director of Southeastern Vermont Community Action but he was denied the opportunity because he lives in Springfield. Despite protests from audience members, Mitchell-Love remained firm and would not recognize Geller.

Adam Wetzel, of Saxtons River, asked Mitchell-Love why she was "trying to micromanage and harass Celina, one the best librarians we've ever had."

Joel Love, Mitchell-Love's husband, said there is no support within the village for keeping the library open and thanked the board for making the decision it did.

Once the trustees voted to adjourn, Geller simply addressed the public and said what he had wanted to say.

He said he is disappointed with the way they have been scheduling meetings (the trustees had earlier voted to close the library but had to vote again when they learned of a state law requiring a minimum of five people voting in the affirmative), as many of the nine board members have not been able to make it. He said they set the meetings at times they know do not work for trustees that would vote the other way.

Geller also objects to what he considers disrespect to the meeting guests by putting the public comment portion at the very end, after the board votes on a motion.

"If they want to ignore (a person's comment) they have the right to do that," he rehashed in the parking lot, "but to have the arrogance to say, ‘We don't even want to listen to what you have to say' -- that's why people have to raise their voice. That board is completely disrespectful and arrogant about the voice that the public has."

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