former Belmont

The former IGA/Belmont building in the Pier Marketplace purchased for a new town library in 2018. 

NARRAGANSETT – One topic has dominated the Narragansett Town Council’s past term – a new public library. Given the extensive debate on the topic in recent years, its prevalence in town matters and its overall significance, The Narragansett Times contacted all town council candidates on the Sept. 8 Primary Election Ballot and asked a simple question – “do you support moving the Narragansett Library to the former IGA/Belmont Marketplace building in the Pier Marketplace and why or why not?”

The candidates’ responses are included below in the order of the Primary Election results in descending order. Those responding were asked to keep their answers limited to 200 words.

Jesse Pugh

Pugh, a council incumbent who received the highest total votes in the 2018 election, has passionately advocated for the library’s relocation to the former IGA/Belmont building in the Pier Marketplace throughout the past term. Clashing frequently with the current council majority over the issue, Pugh has extensively challenged the reasoning for opposing the project, and championed the move. Pugh is a web developer and first ran for a council seat in 2018.

Susan Cicilline Buonanno

“I proudly served on the Narragansett Town Council from 2008-2018.  I served as the Town Council President for the 2016-2018 term and successfully led the town in the purchase of the Belmont building for our new modern library located in the town’s center. Over the last decade I initiated informational workshops and town meetings to ensure the public was well informed and to ensure their voice was heard on this library project. Together, we put together a strategic plan to ensure that our town would build a new modern library in the Belmont building with additional parking. We have worked closely with The Office of Library and Information Services which strengthens, connects and empowers libraries to advance knowledge and connect communities while enriching the lives of our residents. They also provide state funding to the Maury Loontjens Library.”

“While 67.9% of the voters approved a referendum to purchase and renovate that building, a new council quickly reversed that decision in January 2019 and attempted to sell the property, Soon thereafter, I spearheaded the effort, along with other library supporters funders to form the group called Love Your Library. Our mission is to advocate for a new Narragansett Library at the Belmont building.”

Cicilline Buonanno, who stated her withdrawal from the last election in October of 2018, still narrowly missed a seat on council by less than 100 votes. As council president from 2016-2018, the 2020 challenger spearheaded efforts to purchase the former IGA/Belmont building for a new town library.

Patrick Murray

While Murray, a local real estate broker and incumbent serving on the council since 2014, could not be reached for comment for this article, he has spent the last two terms advocating and fighting for the library project to be realized in the former IGA/Belmont space in the Pier Marketplace. Despite initially voting against the purchase in the plaza, Murray changed his mind in 2018 and ultimately approved the acquisition. Since that vote, the incumbent has clashed with the current council majority over the issue, frequently debating the majority’s opposition to the project, attempting to restore full funding the library board and touting the low taxpayer cost of converting the Pier Marketplace property for a new town library.

Ewa Dzwierzynski

“Yes, I absolutely support the library at the Belmont building. I am disheartened that a library could be so controversial and divisive. I will always support the will of the people. The referendum in 2016 with almost 68% of the voters approving the $5.8M bond for the library is what democracy is all about—the people have spoken. A lot of time and effort and due diligence has been spent on this initiative and we just need to move the ball past the goal line. There are a lot of Monday morning quarterbacks who do not have accurate information regarding costs and locations and misinformation is being spread. As a scientist, I analyze things based on facts and data, not emotion. I listen to experts on topics and that is what I have done to come to the determination that the Belmont building is the best location for the library.”

Dzwierzynski, a challenger for a council seat in 2020, is a pharmacist and former challenger for Rhode Island Representative in District 34 (Narragansett, South Kingstown). In 2018, Dzwierzysnki ran against Teresa Tanzi for the seat, losing by just under 600 votes.

Deborah Kopech

“I have supported the plan to move the Maury Loontjens Memorial Library to the building owned by the Town of Narragansett located in Pier Marketplace for several years. Over the past two years, I have become more involved with this project: supporting the library by; becoming a member of the Friends of the Library and Love Your Library. I volunteer with fundraisers supporting activities presented by the library especially, but not just, for children. I have attended programs that enhanced my understanding of history, geology and natural resources of this region, attended movies and used computer equipment with my work as a mentor for people learning our language and culture. I have used the facilities to research topics for classes that I teach and borrow ebooks frequently.”

“This is a warm inviting place with smart, thoughtful people at the helm and behind every desk. But they are limited in their scope by the limitations of their space and that is unfortunate.  I feel that a great deal of planning, consideration and hard work has gone into the decision to move into this building, I trust the experts and cannot wait to get this project moving forward.”

Kopech, a challenger in 2020, worked in finance for over 26 years before retirement. Since the library issue came to a head in 2018, Kopech has publicly supported the library board the facility’s move to the former IGA/Belmont building frequently. 

Laurie Kelly

“As the Chair of the MLM Library, I support moving the library to the Belmont building. The Library Board has worked on this project for 12 years: vetting many different options and working with licensed library architects, a professional cost estimator, construction experts and engineers. We are confident that this project is the most cost effective choice, which will also qualify for the State of RI Grant in Aid program to reimburse up to 50 percent of the total outlay. More importantly, the people voted for this in 2016, and the will of the people should be followed by the Town Council who represent us. Most urgently today, we need a Council that will restore the funding to our current library. The TC3 have defunded the library, allocating less than half of our current payroll. Since this budget passed in June, we have lost two Full Time Employees, and there is a real threat that more of our municipal employees will lose their jobs in a time when the loss of income and healthcare puts families in crisis. It is also interesting to note that this punitive budget slashing occurred even though the MLM library continued to serve the public throughout the entire pandemic time.”

As head of the Library Board of Trustees, Kelly has spearheaded support for the public library project at the former IGA/Belmont building, frequently battling against the town council majority throughout the past term and harshly opposing cuts to the board’s budget. Kelly is a challenger in the 2020 election.

Jill Lawler

“My position on the library has never wavered. Narragansett needs a better library. The Library Board wants us to believe that the current library could not be renovated or, if it could, the total cost would be more than the purchase and buildout of the Gilbane Building. Monday’s workshop revealed that this is not true. It is possible to renovate the existing library for around $5 million. While a new library at the Gilbane Building might cost the same, we must add to that cost the $2.8 Million purchase price, tax losses of $28,000 per year, and the yearly $38,000 common area fees. A small group of library supporters, not satisfied with the results of the 2018 election, filed lawsuits and ballot initiatives to block the Council’s ability to sell the Gilbane Building and recoup $2.8 million of town emergency funds.

If Narragansett taxpayers want to preserve the option of an affordable library at either the current site or at the Community Center, it is critical to vote in the primary in favor of the only three candidates opposed to the Gilbane Building. Lawler, Lema and Ferrandi must advance to the November Election. I ask for your support.”

Lawler is the current president pro tem of the Narargansett Town Council and first won election to the body in 2016. She has consistently opposed the move to the former IGA/Belmont building and voted against its purchase in 2018.

Richard Lema

“’The best Library this town can afford;’ this will continue to be my platform on this subject. This platform has been manipulated by many and embraced by most. There is continued interest and support is on the rise. Taxpayers are concerned and this remains my priority. It's a quality of life issue. A recent workshop was held and sponsored by myself and Jill Lawler. That workshop offered estimates and provided renewed interest to build on the grounds near the Community Center. Building an affordable, state of the art, 20,000 sq. ft library on Town owned land, with no monthly CAM fee’s, with reimbursement of 50 percent for new construction cost, and no loss in tax revenue remains the formula for this platform and offers to the residents the best library this Town can afford.”

“Furthermore, it honors the will of the people. In 2016, 69.7 percent of the voters voted ‘to finance the acquisition and renovation of real estate and/or interests.’ The ballot question did not identify Belmont. The Community Center proposal or the buildout of the current library is in support of the referendum language. My efforts and platform are not Anti-library. My platform is lower taxes and quality of life.”

Lema, a retired firefighter for the City of Providence and fisherman, is a town council incumbent first elected in 2018. Prior to being elected to that body, Lema served on the town’s recreational advisory board. Lema is a member of the current council majority that has opposed the library project in the Pier Marketplace space.

Winters Hames

“I am a supporter of moving the library to the ‘Belmont; building. I have spoken at numerous Town Council meetings in support of this move and have gone as far as filing a voter's initiative to halt the sale of the ‘Belmont’ building. That petition is still in court and will prevent the building from being sold to anyone until it is either heard by the court or voted on in the upcoming general election. 

This move was approved by 67.9 percent of the voters in the 2016 election and advertised as such in the Narragansett Times. This Town Council has ignored the will of the people under the guise of saving tax payers money, which in fact has cost the tax payers more money in court cost and increased building expenses. All other options were vetted and deemed too expensive or not suitable. If elected I promise this will be on the first agenda and turned over to the Library Board of Trustees to move forward. I also promise to make public all associated legal fees that have been incurred by the Town in this willful disregard of the will of the people.”

Hames, a challenger in 2020, is the Chair of the Narragansett Democratic Town Committee, a former member of the town’s recreation advisory board and has attended many council meetings to publicly support the library’s move to the former IGA/Belmont building in the Pier Marketplace. He is the owner of a food distribution business. 

Steven Belaus

“I voted for a new library in 2016 along with 67.9 percent of voters and I support the Belmont site because it is in the center of town and will serve as an anchor for surrounding businesses, tourists, and the community as a whole. There is only one thing stopping this from happening, and that’s the train wreck we’ve witnessed over the past two years by the TC3. I am convinced that their end game is no library, and that is exactly what this town will get if a New TC3 (Lawler, Lema, and Ferrandi) are elected. There will be no new library because their core constituents are dead set against any increase in property taxes, however modest that may be, while still being among the lowest in the state. Why else would anyone cut the library budget in half two years in a row?  

The overwhelming majority of residents are tired of hearing about the state-of-the-art library that will never be built. We would be lucky to get a bookmobile out of these three. They are not forward looking. If Narragansett does not get a new library, it will be a devastating loss for the community. Wake up Narragansett!  It’s time for a new pair of shoes.”

Belaus, a challenger in 2020, has been a substitute teacher in the Narragansett School System for the past four years and is currently working closely with U.S. Census on the 2020 Census for Rhode Island. He has attended past town council meetings in support of the library project. Prior to joining the Narragansett School System, Belaus made a career in finance and international trade.

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