Straw vote backs repairs to Rumford Library

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RUMFORD – With three options to chose from, 50 percent of voters in a straw ballot Tuesday for the future of the Rumford Public Library chose to make only the necessary repairs to bring the century-old Carnegie library up to code.

Twenty-four percent, or 78 voters, want to build a new library at the former site of Stephens High School, and 25 percent, or 81 voters, preferred to do a major renovation/addition to the existing building.

A total of 320 people cast ballots.

Kathy Sutton, chairwoman of the Library Growth Committee and advocate of a new library, was not surprised by the results.

“We were not given the opportunity to provide over several months the information to the public so they could make an informed decision,” she said late Tuesday night. “They could not make a decision with all the facts.”

The committee had planned to hold informational sessions on the needs of the library before a binding vote in June.

That may still happen, but Sutton won’t know until the committee meets Friday.

Selectman Mark Belanger requested the straw vote a few weeks ago when Sutton asked the board for permission to spend up to $15,000 for a conceptual design of a new library. He said he wanted to gain a sense of how Rumford residents felt about building a new library, adding on to the existing one, or just making the necessary repairs to bring it up to code before authorizing the expenditure.

The issue is scheduled to go before selectmen at their Feb. 1 meeting.

Belanger said Tuesday night that he will not vote for the committee to hire an architect to design a conceptual drawing because of Tuesday’s vote.

“The vote was a pretty good cross section of people,” he said. “I feel people know what they want even without the library committee conducting information sessions. If they’re like any other hearings, they aren’t well-attended.”

The library committee received a $10,000 grant from the Betterment Fund and $5,000 from the Rumford Public Library Trustees to spend on a conceptual design for a new library.

A design for a major renovation/addition has already been completed.

Sutton said she believes the library committee owes town residents all the information. The strategy of how to get that information out may change, however, because of Tuesday’s vote. She doesn’t know if a binding vote will come before residents in June.

A meeting of the Library Growth Committee at 4 p.m. on Friday may help answer some of these questions, she said.

Belanger said the role of the public library has changed.

“With the Internet, people do research online. It’s a whole different animal,” he said.

He said he may make a motion on Feb. 1 to authorize drawings for a repair project.

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