Library Plans Need to Be Scaled Back

By CHRIS BURRELL

Construction bids to build the Island's newest and biggest public library in Oak Bluffs came in way over budget last week, forcing library trustees to send their architect back to the drafting table with orders to reduce the project's scale.

All four bids opened last week topped the $4 million mark, exceeding the $3.5 million budgeted for construction of a nearly 15,000-square-foot library on Pacific avenue. Highest of the four bids was $4.5 million.

"We're going back to the drawing board and rebidding. We'll just have to scale it down and make some kind of drastic cuts," said library building committee member Herbert Combra. "But we're moving ahead on it, and we'll have something in two or three weeks."

Architects for the project had predicted that bids would come in no higher than $3.25 million.

Oak Bluffs selectmen officially rejected the bids at their meeting last week, but their board chairman is committed to ushering in a new library to replace the tiny facility on Pennacook avenue.

"We've identified our library needs," selectmen chairman Richard Combra told the Gazette. "The architect and committee are working together to refine that building until we can come in under the number the town has authorized."

Library director Linda Norton said the committee has not decided what areas of the planned library they will cut. Building committee chairman Karen Achille could not be reached for comment.

"We're looking at materials and asking whether the meeting room needs to be a community or a library-sized space," said Oak Bluffs town administrator Casey Sharpe.

But current plans for a new Oak Bluffs library would create a building seven times larger than its current home - just 2,400 square feet of space. By comparison, Chilmark's new library is roughly 9,000 square feet, while Vineyard Haven's expanded library is 7,200 square feet. The Edgartown library encloses about 9,600 square feet.

Oak Bluffs library trustees are looking to bring their library into the technological age. Plans call for 20 computer stations, with nearly half of them geared for internet use.

The two floors would house a separate area for audio-visual materials, a meeting room with a capacity for 100 people, a historical room than can hold meetings for 16 people and a separate children's library.

Money is clearly the big question now. Not only do planners need to retool their plans in an effort to bring in bids that fit their budget, they are also trying to raise nearly a million dollars to offset the total cost.

Here's how the numbers stack up: The town is in line for a $1.56 million state grant. That will offset the amount of money that Oak Bluffs taxpayers agreed to shoulder at the annual town meeting last year.

But the total project cost, including architect fees, is $3.8 million. A library fund-raising committee has launched a campaign to raise $800,000 in private funds and ask town residents to pay the remaining $1.5 million for a new library.

The fund-raising goal is large, especially considering that the Vineyard Haven Public Library was able to pull in just $500,000 for its expansion project completed three years ago.

Library backers have hired a consultant from Andover to help them identify and approach potential donors. The consultant's fee is being paid by Peter Martell, the downtown businessman who owns The Wesley Hotel, The Lampost and Rare Duck.

Voters at the annual town meeting last year gave their unanimous support to the project. But though there is little question that the town has outgrown its Pennacook avenue site, there are some misgivings about leaving the downtown neighborhood.

Last month, Ms. Achille told the Gazette, "There are many people who are very saddened."

But she has also assured library patrons with a bit of geography. "The new site," she said, "is only a third of a mile from the present location."