Officials Spar Over Completion Of New Mashpee Library
By: Brian Kehrl
The new Mashpee Public Library has received a certificate of occupancy from the town Building Department. But as the construction winds down, a conflict has heated up between the Mashpee Board of Library Trustees and other town officials about plans to open the $9 million building to the public.
The disagreement has led to what town officials described as effectively two separate openings for the building: one in early April lead by the Mashpee Planning and Construction Committee with the support of the town administration, and one in May led by the library trustees and library supporters.
At issue is plans by the trustees for a three-week closure of the library, as staff make the move from the temporary location in South Cape Village over to the new building off Route 151, as well as the legal responsibilities of different town entities to make decisions regarding the library.
Also at root are long-simmering tensions between the trustees and the town administration, feelings that became public last fall when selectmen declined to allow a representative of the trustees to speak at a public meeting discussing staffing at the new building.
The conflict came to the fore at a trustees meeting last week, when Selectmen Theresa M. Cook, Selectman Wayne E. Taylor, Town Manager Joyce M. Mason, Mashpee Department of Public Works Director Catherine A. Laurent, and construction committee Chairman Steven M. Cook discussed plans to close the library for three weeks during the move.
The town officials said they suggested ways to make the move without closing the library, but were quickly told by trustee Chairman David F. Burton that they have no authority to tell the trustees how to make the move.
“Within seconds, the chairman of the trustees took the opportunity to really go off on the two selectmen and myself, questioning certain authority. I felt it was very inappropriate. I felt it was dressing down the chief elected officials of the community, who have supported this project right along,” Ms. Mason said.
“We were pretty much told to stay out of their business. ‘You don’t really have the ability to volunteer in our library,’ is how I took it.”
Both Mr. Taylor and Ms. Cook said the discussion became heated, with Ms. Cook saying she felt “attacked.”
“We were told it is none of our business,” Ms. Cook said.
Mr. Cook, of the planning and construction committee, said the disagreement dates back to January, when the trustees announced to the PCC that they had set dates to close the temporary library, move, and reopen. “We said, ‘Why have they decided that.’ They didn’t even talk to the PCC, who have been working on this for the last three years.”
He said the meeting seemed like an attack on the selectmen and Ms. Mason. “We came in to talk about one subject, and they went off on another subject that is over and done with and in the past,” he said, referring to staffing issues at the new library.
Mr. Cook said the PCC received a request late last year from the Friends of the Mashpee Public Library to take back a $75,000 donation that was given to pay for solar panels on the new building. The money was proposed to be given to the trustees to hire temporary workers, he said. The PCC declined the request for the time being, he said, but is willing to reconsider it after the project is completed and the final costs are known.
Mr. Burton characterized the meeting differently, saying that there were no harsh words. “There was just no vitriol generated from the trustees,” he said.
“I made a statement to the effect that we are very grateful that the town, especially at the upper levels of government, is willing to pitch in and have a civil discourse here. We appreciate that very much, I do individually and I know the board does. I did go on to say that our experience has not always been thus. There was an attempt to sit down in September and then being invited to the selectmen’s meeting to speak and then not being allowed to speak. But the past is the past,” he said.
He denied that the conflict is a “turf war,” but said the trustees have a legal responsibility to oversee the library.
He also defended the closure, pointing to a memorandum written by Library Director Helene B. DeFoe, laying out the logistics of the move. The new building includes new computers, a new tracking system, and new facilities, in addition to the physical process of moving the collection out of storage and the temporary building into the new one.
“All of the new volunteers will need orientation and training. We will use the time we are closed to bring them into the new library and train them in the specific tasks they’ll be doing. This is not something we can do once we open. We have a very small staff and we’ll need to hit the ground running when the doors open. We don’t have the luxury of time for training once we open because we’ll be out on the floor waiting on patrons,” she wrote. “We can’t have piles of boxes sitting around waiting to be unpacked months afterwards as you’d have in a home move.”
Mr. Taylor said the trustees used as a model Falmouth’s recent move into a new library. The main Falmouth library was closed for several weeks during the move.
But Mr. Taylor said Falmouth has several satellite branches, putting it in a different situation than Mashpee.
“I am not saying that their request is outlandish. What I was there more for was to get answers about why it was such a necessity,” Mr. Taylor said.
Mr. Burton said the trustees plan to move ahead on their previous schedule to close the library for three weeks, straddling the end of March and the beginning of April. A grand opening is scheduled for May, he said.
Mr. Cook and Ms. Mason said a ribbon cutting has been scheduled for the beginning of April, when the planning and construction committee will formally hand over the keys to the library trustees, who will then be responsible for the building.
Ms. Mason said, “This is our building until we give them the keys. Unfortunately, the meeting didn’t go well. It is disappointing. It is very discouraging that it went the way that it did. Especially because this is an exciting time for the town.”
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