HARVARD -- Robert Hubert, of Old Littleton Road, told the selectmen Tuesday night that he's "kind of a townie" after 25 years. And a kind of artist-in-residence as well.
Formerly employed by the Boston Ballet, Hubert said he's now the "corporator" of a new nonprofit that plans to take over from the Old Library Pilot Project.
Working on a project with the Historical Society to produce portraits of 50 notable Harvard citizens for an exhibit in the fall, Hubert said he has now taken on the new Old Library venture, in part inspired by the fact that he lives next door.
Specifically, the new venture he came to talk about is the formation of a nonprofit corporation -- Harvard's Center on the Common, Inc. -- that will take over from the Pilot Project, a two-year experiment whose aim was to determine if the antique building, vacated after the public library moved to its new digs on Pond Road, could become a cultural and community center.
By all accounts, the Town-Meeting-approved Pilot Project has been successful in that respect, hosting various programs and events, drawing renters such as a dance studio set up in the former Hapgood Room in the basement and growing community support.
However, previous boards of selectmen, while they backed the project's visionary goals, were concerned about practical matters, such as whether the Pilot Project should share expenses for building operation and maintenance, or at least pay rent.
Now, it's time to
"We have a plan in place" to keep current renters, build revenue and help maintain the Old Library building, Hubert said, which is now, in effect, a burden on taxpayers and will continue to be until a decision is made about its long-term reuse.
With the Old Library as its base of operations, the new entity can begin accepting donations, Hubert said, while continuing current, revenue-generating activities and expanding community programs.
"Personally, I don't want to see the old building vacant for a long period," said Hubert, who said the historic home he owns "a door away" would lose value if that happened, as would others in the neighborhood.
Professionally speaking, he posited that the cultural center is the answer to the dilemma.
But the selectmen have another iron in this fire. They have not yet decided where to relocate Town Hall while the iconic old building is renovated, a multimillion-dollar project Annual Town Meeting voters approved this year.
But Hubert said that's not the point right now. "My goal is not to block any other processes such as the board's decision regarding the pending temporary move," he said.
Given that the board is looking into other off-site rental options and subsequently tasked Town Administrator Tim Bragan with firming up details, Selectman Bill Johnson asked Hubert if his group was willing to do the same, that is, consider where else it might set up shop on a temporary basis if Town Hall ends up moving to the Old Library for awhile.
Hubert had earlier sidestepped any such conversation, stating that his group has targeted the Old Library, period. But when Johnson put it that way, he conceded it was a "fair" request and that such a compromise might be discussed during negotiations. For now, though, all they want to do is start talking, he said.
Johnson was all for it. "This is fabulous," he said. "I can't think of a finer tenant." He looks forward to a sit-down, he said, to see if they can make it work.
Ron Ricci agreed. "I'd like to see another entity take responsibility for the building," he said, including capital expenses such as furnace or roof repairs as well as routine maintenance.
"Basically, take over all the expenses," he said. "I can't say that's possible now, but I'm optimistic that goal can be achieved."
Ricci suggested that Harvard's Center on the Common, Inc., look into partnering with the Harvard Community Education Program to compare offerings, some of which seem to overlap. The idea would be to coordinate versus competing, he said.
Absent that, "you run on a shoestring" while taxpayers keep paying the bills, Ricci said. Clearly not acceptable, in his view.
"The project has been heavily subsidized," he continued. "I urge you to do the best you can to grow."
Marie Sobalvarro made a motion to negotiate a rental agreement with the non-profit Hubert represents, to conclude within 90 days.
Before voting, Tim Clark asked Bragan for clarification on the approval process.
Unlike a lease, which would need Town Meeting approval, the selectmen --thanks to a recently amended board policy -- can both broker and seal a rental deal on their own, Bragan said.
But Ricci said the board's decision on the Town Hall move should be settled first. "I need to understand the fiscal impact on the town" in terms of "vacating this building during renovation," he said.
"Is there someplace else you can go?" Chairman Lucy Wallace asked Hubert.
If where Town Hall moves to is at issue, "we can talk about that," he responded. But for now, his focus was the current business proposition and the Old Library building, he said.
Long-term goals being what they are, "we're looking into alternatives and ask that you do the same," Johnson said.