The issue of whether Narragansett’s public library should move into a larger, more modern building dominated public discussion in the town before this fall’s election.
Following the results of the election, and with three new members elected to the Town Council, those who support the library’s move have been celebrating the victories of these candidates.
“We’re excited to be able to move forward,” Patti Arkwright, director of the Maury Loontjens Memorial Library, said. “We are happy that it was a good outcome for us and we’re ready to get going.”
Proponents of the library’s move argued that the current space within the Maury Loontjens Memorial Library is not large enough for the library to remain there, and a move to a new building, locally known as the Belmont building, made more financial sense than expanding the current building.
Its main opposition came on financial grounds, with Town Council President Matthew Mannix saying in a 2019 interview with the Narragansett Times that “the deal is not a good deal for the town.”
Incumbents Jesse Pugh and Patrick Murray, both of whom support the library’s move, won reelection. They will be joined by Susan Cicilline Buonanno, Ewa Dzwierzynski and Deborah Kopech, who all support the move as well.
Councilmembers Jill Lawler and Richard Lema, who opposed the library moving into the Belmont building, both lost reelection, finishing with 8.3 and 7.1 percent of the vote respectively, according to the Rhode Island Board of Elections.
Mannix did not seek reelection. Instead, he ran as an independent candidate for District 36 in the Rhode Island General Assembly, but lost, earning 15.8 percent of the vote.
“[Their losses] say to me that for two years they did not go on with the will of the people,” Nancy DeNuccio, president of Love Your Library, said.
Love Your Library describes itself as “a grassroots coalition of Narragansett, Rhode Island residents who love our amazing Maury Loontjens Memorial Library, and want to see the will of voters followed by allowing the library to move into a modern new space in the Pier Marketplace,” according to its website.
Arkwright and DeNuccio both said that they have favorable opinions of the council’s three new members.
“I know for sure that [Cicilline Buonanno] and Deb Kopech are fully behind the library,” DeNuccio said. “I’m not as familiar with [Dzwierzynski], but she has indicated that she is supportive of the library, so I will take her word for that.”
DeNuccio also noted that before the library can move, its funding, which had been slashed over the past few years, will have to increase.
“For the last two budget seasons, they basically cut the library’s budget in half, and the state needs to see that the town is supporting the library right now,” DeNuccio said.
DeNuccio also said that she was confident that a new Town Council would restore the funding of the library, which, according to the town’s financial documents, stood at $841,000 before cuts.
With the library moving into the Belmont building looking more likely, Arkwright and DeNuccio are now looking at timelines for how long it could take the library to move in.
“We’re thinking 2-3 years before all is said and done,” Arkwright said.
Overall, Arkwright said she was excited for the library’s future.
“I think we’ll be able to offer the services that the town has been needing for a while, you know, a bigger library, a community room where they can meet for larger programs, and I think the technology will be able to catch up with the current stuff that other libraries are doing,” Arkwright said.
Members of the Narragansett Town Council did not respond to requests to comment.
This story was published in the Nov. 19, 2020 edition of the Good Five Cent Cigar, as a post-election follow-up to this story.