The Rice Public Library in Kittery. Credit: Submitted photo courtesy of Portsmouth Herald

KITTERY, Maine — As discussions continued between town officials and Rice Public Library in regards to the latter becoming a town department ahead of its expansion project, questions remained around what will happen to the outstanding $62,500 in the Arabella Rice Trust.

In a general consensus Monday night, town councilors felt it should be split, with half going to the town, while the library’s board of directors, remaining a 501c3 for fundraising purposes, would retain the other half. No formal vote was taken.

Library Director Lee Perkins said the board has agreed to divide the trust evenly and a few other edits to a proposed memorandum of understanding.

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Rice essentially created the public library following her death in 1872. The heiress left $30,000 for the creation of a “free public library” in Kittery, although she was a lifelong Portsmouth resident. Her initials are sculpted above the Rice Public Library entrance.

Monday’s Town Council conversation surmounted around the working MOU that would bring the library under town jurisdiction beginning July 1, a step Town Manager Kendra Amaral felt was necessary if the town were to bond $4 million for its renovation and expansion, the option voters picked overwhelmingly in a 2017 non-binding referendum asking what the town should do with the library.

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While the library would become a town department under the proposed MOU, and library employees town staff, the library board of directors elected to retain 501c3 status to be eligible for charitable contributions, retain particular assets and support the library’s strategic goals.

Councilor Jeffrey Thomson initially said he felt the remaining money in the Rice Trust was “no different” than the grounds and buildings that will be turned over to the town “if all goes according to plan.” He said the library should turnover all of its assets, and the trust should be included.

Councilor Jeffrey Pelletier said at last week’s workshop on the MOU with town officials and the library, the future of the trust funds was the one thing the parties were unable to reach consensus on.

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He said the town would be fortunate to have an active group of people working on behalf of the library, and “in our pocket or their pocket,” he expected the funds in question would be used for the same purposes, such as library services and programming.

“It does make sense to me that those funds would remain with them,” he said. “I think that’s an appropriate place for those funds to rest. We can spend an amount of time arguing over who ought to control that, but I think for a group that has managed library operations, philosophy and direction (for many years), I don’t see how we can go wrong moving forward.”

Pelletier said it’s important to establish trust between the two parties, which he said has been worn over the years during various attempts to renovate or expand the library.

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“We are close to finalizing what ought to be a terrific gift to the town and securing a group who will operate into the future with the best interest of the library,” he said.

Councilor Matt Brock said he’d be willing to allow the funds to remain with the board of directors “as a good will gesture and to build further trust.”

Councilor Charles Denault offered what the council would ultimately rally around: splitting the assets between the town and board.

“Kittery is taking on a major league responsibility to pursue this library at a significant cost,” he said. “Perhaps, maybe the answer is in the middle. They can contribute 50 percent to us, and 50 percent stays.”

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“We’re investing half a million dollars in this project, that’s a lot of money,” added Council Chairwoman Judy Spiller, referring to the $500,000 allocated for the design phase in the last two capital improvement plans. “So I think it would be nice to see a little bit of the money that came with the original trust going with the building and coming back to the town.”

Amaral said any amount of the trust that came to the town would be put in a special account to be used only for the upkeep and maintenance of the library.

The finalized MOU is expected to be presented for review March 25. Perkins said it’s “a good moment in time” for the library to make this major transition.

“I think everybody is very excited about it,” she said. “It’s a wonderful opportunity for the town and our patrons and residents. The library could not stand alone and do that addition, if you will. That’s just not a piece the library has funding for or can do that kind of project.”

She called the library’s soon-to-be relationship with the town “good synergy.”