NARRAGANSETT, R.I. — The effort to secure a new home for the Maury Loontjens Memorial Library has been years in the making, and has generated significant – and often contentious – debate in the community.
Now, nearly two years after voters approved a $5.8-million bond question for the project, the town has officially acquired the former Belmont Market and IGA building in Pier Marketplace as the library’s future location.
The contract with Gilbane Inc., operating as G.P. Pier Retail LLC, was signed by Town Manager James Manni, the town’s assistant solicitor and Gilbane attorney John V. McGreen on Oct. 17. A press conference was held at the former Belmont site the following afternoon, with a large banner touting the location as the “Future home of Narragansett’s library” hung over the entrance and visible to passersby.
“I’m just absolutely thrilled for the town of Narragansett,” Town Council President Cicilline Buonanno said at the press conference. “I want to thank everybody that put in the time and energy over the many years of our working trying to finally bring home what the residents of this town wanted. They wanted a library, they wanted it in the center of town … I look forward to the future of this beautiful library. I know there’s a lot of work to be done, but this is a huge step.”
Thomas F. Gilbane Jr., chairman and chief executive officer of Gilbane, also spoke during the press conference.
“It’s wonderful, all the hard work, the message of the voters,” he said, referencing the wide margin of approval for the 2016 ballot question. “It’s rare that anything gets 67 percent of people to vote for it … It took a lot of goodwill on everybody’s part to make something like this happen.”
“This has been a long-awaited project by the town of Narragansett,” Manni said, noting that the library’s future has been at the forefront of local discussion since before he was named town manager.
In 2012, the current Maury Loontjens Memorial Library building at 35 Kingstown Road was determined to be in violation of Americans with Disabilities Act and fire code requirements. In 2013, the former Belmont site emerged as a potential library location.
The council in March voted 3-2 to approve a $2.8-million purchase-and-sales agreement for the former Belmont space and nearby parking spaces. An easement-and-maintenance agreement with Gilbane was approved in June. The final decision approving the purchase of the library on Oct. 15 resulted in another 3-2 vote, with Cicilline Buonanno joining councilors Patrick Murray and Michael Moretti in favor, while Pro Tem Matthew Mannix and Councilor Jill Lawler were opposed.
The purchase also includes the 3,000-square-foot space currently operating as Pier Liquors and more parking for an additional $400,000, although the council at its last meeting delayed a final decision on how that space will be used until after the election.
A library building committee, consisting of three members of the Library Board of Trustees, three town-appointed members and one neutral member, was established during the council meeting on Oct. 15. This committee will serve as a guiding force for most of the steps moving forward.
There is still some work to do before the library can officially move to its new home. According to Laurie Kelly, chairwoman of the trustees, it could be approximately two years before that happens. The next step will be for the library building committee to hire an architect for the project.
“First, we have to get a design,” she said. “There’s going to be a lot of input from the library staff and the state.”
The town will have to operate under specific guidelines from the state’s Office of Library & Information Services. If the town follows the guidelines put forth by the OLIS, it could be reimbursed for up to 50 percent of the total project cost.