RUMFORD — By a 3-1 vote at Thursday night’s meeting, selectmen apparently killed the Rumford Public Library Growth Committee’s attempt to potentially score $2 million in federal funding to move and expand the century-old building.
After considerable discussion, Selectmen Chairman Brad Adley, and Selectmen Greg Buccina and Frank DiConzo voted not to seek public assistance from the U. S. Department of Agriculture for the project.
All three said they couldn’t and wouldn’t ask taxpayers to fund such a project if it meant taking out a $1 million loan that may accompany a grant.
Selectman Jeff Sterling, the lone dissenter, said he was neither for nor against the project, but believed it wouldn’t be up to the board to seek taxpayer funding to repay a loan.
Sterling simply asked that the board apply for assistance, but let the growth committee sell the project to the public.
Selectman Mark Belanger was absent.
Growth committee members spent 10 years trying to find funding for the project while planning a new $3.2 million library. They’d like to move the existing library to the former Stephens High School site and expand it, rather than renovate it.
Librarian Karl Aromaa attempted to convince selectmen to apply for federal assistance.
“It’s a good opportunity for us,” he said. “No. 1, there’s no commitment. All we have to do is apply, and No. 2, we have five years to complete the project.”
“Let’s fill out the application and see what’s available,” Aromaa said. “Apply and see where we can go.”
The library growth committee can’t apply for federal funding because it isn’t a municipal authority, Town Manager Carlo Puiia said.
Ten-year library Trustee Marie Boudreau urged selectmen not to apply for assistance, saying the growth committee failed to heed the wishes of residents who previously voted at town meetings or in straw polls not to move the library.
“Why not renovate our beautiful library?” Boudreau asked. “It does have aches and pains as we all do.”
She said the library is good where it is.
“It will get better with help, but not with $3 million, not with a heavy 3.5- or 4.3-percent loan (and) 30-year payment,” Boudreau said. “It does not have to be done in one time period. It can be done in installations.”
She said it would be better to leave the library where it is, on a knoll overlooking the river rather than place it on the old high school site beside a funeral home.
DiConzo objected, saying he envisions the Stephens High School site as a memorial park, complete with benches and a lighted gazebo for concerts.
Resident Kevin Saisi suggested adding an article to the June town meeting warrant asking residents the binding question of whether they want to move or renovate the library.
Resident Ted Hotham said the town decided in the past not to build both a building for Med-Care Ambulance Service and a new fire station.
“And yet you’re talking about spending God knows what to build a library that not many people use,” Hotham said.
Aromaa countered Hotham and said many people do use the library, citing Wednesday’s count of 243 people.
At Saisi’s prompting, DiConzo quickly motioned not to apply for assistance. Adley seconded to generate more discussion.
Selectman Buccina, admitting that Boudreau had swayed him, said he would support seeking public assistance money if moving the library wasn’t part of the equation.
Selectman Sterling made a last-ditch effort to sway the board to his thinking.
“I think the growth committee should be given the chance to sell it,” he said. “I think this board is not being asked to fund any money. There’s no harm whatsoever to have selectmen apply for public assistance.”
But the majority decided otherwise.