Rockingham Library to close Wednesday, reopen in July

Tuesday May 14, 2013

BELLOWS FALLS -- The Rockingham Free Public Library will not reopen immediately after closing tomorrow for the clearing of asbestos, the library trustees decided Monday.

The trustees established that the building will be closed from Wednesday, May 15, to Sunday, May 19, to deal with the asbestos and will not open again until the middle or end of July, when it is expected to be compliant with the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. The library's elevator, as of right now, is not properly functional.

Monday's regular meeting of the trustees (held at the WOOL radio station) got heated at times, with many members of the roughly 40 people in attendance expressing their displeasure with how the trustees have handled library issues.

The board voted on Thursday, May 1, to close the library so Engelberth Construction Inc. can complete the renovation work, which is expected to be finished by August. Monday's vote established the specific timeline for that closure.

There is also an on-going debate of how to to deal with the library's day-to-day operations during its closure. Trustee Chairwoman Janice Mitchell-Love previously told the Reformer the options are to utilize the community space of a local bank or the Bellows Falls Waypoint Center. Several people -- including library staff members -- initially said the Waypoint Center cannot be used because it has received federal monies to serve as a tourist center, but Interim Municipal Manager Chip Stearns told the Reformer that new information has recently come to light that will allow the Waypoint Center to be used.

He said Library Trustee Deborah Wright did some research and told him and Rockingham Development Director Francis "Dutch" Walsh the Waypoint Center can be utilized because it 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.

Stearns said this information must be brought to the Waypoint Center committee before the Rockingham Selectboard, which voted last week to deny the library any excess to the Waypoint Center. The Waypoint Center committee is set to meeting at 9 a.m. Thursday.

It is believed some of the library's programs and seminars can be held at the WOOL station and in the community space at the Merchant's Bank located in The Square.

Monday's meeting got a bit hostile after talk about the renovation work and Trustee Chairwoman Janice Mitchell-Love called a brief recess. The meeting later went into executive session and re-entered regular session to a slew of public comments critical of the trustees.

Multiple people asked the trustees not to close the library and some read out loud letters from others.

Elayne Clift, who identified herself as a former library trustee and the president of the Friends of the Rockingham Library, called the current board "autocratic" and "unilateral" in its decisions and called on all the members to step down so there can be an emergency meeting to elect new trustees. Two other people requested that members of the board resign their positions.

Deb Wetzel, also a former library trustee, asked the board if they heard the cries from the public and asked the trustees to listen to the people.

Cathy Bergmann, who said she is a lifelong resident of Bellows Falls and got her first library card circa 1955, read aloud a letter from resident Joel Love she was asked to read. She said she would identify the author after reading it but did so after furious members of the audience demanded to know who wrote it. The letter claimed that opponents of the library's closure were clueless and ignorant of facts. The reading generated jeers from the crowd - who said it was disrespectful - and Mitchell-Love ended the public comment portion of the meeting before Bergmann got a chance to voice her own personal opinion.

A petition was passed through the crowd to obtain signatures in support of keeping the library open, whereas Rockingham residents "and other library patrons need and highly value the services and programs provided by the Rockingham Free Public Library," whereas residents "have clearly communicated their desire" to keep the building open and because residents and other people are paying (through the taxes or byway of their library cards) to have the library open all year long.

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


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