Edgartown Library’s Second Chance

The old Carnegie building in the heart of the Edgartown village that houses the free public library is due for a facelift; on that point there is unanimous agreement. But the library expansion project that has struggled along for the last five years now returns to the drawing board for a new design and cost analysis, following the revelation last week that the fifteen-million-dollar price tag had just climbed by another million or more. Sadly, an approved four-million-dollar grant from the Massachusetts Library Commission must also be abandoned because another million was just too much for the public-private fund-raising partnership that needed to raise matching money by June fifteenth.

But there will be another round of grant funding to apply for next year. And however bitter this pill may be to swallow for the well-intentioned and hard-working town library trustees and friends foundation who have worked so tirelessly on the plan up to this point, back to the drawing board is unquestionably the right thing to do.

A three-hundred-thousand-dollar article will go on the warrant for the annual town meeting this coming April; the money is aimed at jump-starting a new plan and steering the foundering project onto stable ground. It is not yet clear whether the current design will be scrapped altogether or revised by scaling back its size, and most notably, cost.

The fate of the Captain Warren House, bought with three and a half million dollars in taxpayer money five years ago, also remains uncertain. Bought at the height of a red-hot real estate market with no clear plan for its use beyond the idea that it could serve as a library annex, the Warren house stands as the symbol of what went wrong with this project, which began with spending money before there was a coherent plan.

One was eventually developed, of course, but now that too has gone awry because it is too expensive.

At this juncture it is useful to remember that the core of the library project was and remains renovation and preservation of the Carnegie building, a jewel in Edgartown’s downtown architecture crown. It is the town’s responsibility to carefully restore the building, and if the library addition in the end must be built smaller due to cost constraints — well, that seems not to be such a hardship, especially when placed in the context of an ongoing economic recession that has cut so deeply into people’s pocketbooks and lives.

No doubt Andrew Carnegie, who was never a quitter, would agree.