Woodstock Library officials, embattled by opponents to a proposed $1.6 million annex, have agreed to set up a task force to review alternative plans recently submitted by the public and to have an open dialogue at regular meetings. The Board of Trustees made the decision June 19 during the first board meeting to offer immediate two-way communication between board members and the public.
The board had chosen an hour and a half for give-and-take, but that turned into two hours, forcing the agenda-packed meeting to stretch to four hours. It was also the first time the public and board got a look at the proposed 2015 budget.
Late in the meeting, town councilman Ken Panza’s challenge to raising certain line items and a preliminary budget that increases tax levy by 4.43 percent prompted a brief verbal scuffle with a library trustee. While it was just a first look at a budget that is far from approved, it did raise a few eyebrows in the audience.
President Stuart Auchincloss attributed the lack of communication at prior meetings to a full slate of business trustees must address. “Our goal is really to make sure the library is being run according to our vision, our values,” Auchincloss told the audience. Important items like programs, daily operations and budgets take time and there is no avenue for immediate answers to public questions, he said. “We realize that is frustrating.”
Starting with the June 19 meeting, the board listened to comments and presentations from the public, answered questions and asked questions of their own. “This may work or it may not,” Auchincloss said of the experimental new meeting format. “But this isn’t the last chance to have an open conversation with the public.”
The annex design by Joel Sanders Architect includes a 2,050-square-foot building at the site of the former Woodstock Laundromat across Library Lane that includes a 65-seat meeting space that can be divided into smaller areas, a “maker-space” workshop, two unisex bathrooms, a small kitchen, storage room, front and rear decks and a roof deck.
Opponents have balked at the cost for a relatively small sized building and the potential environmental impact caused by building so close to the Tannery Brook. The project may encounter more environmental snags as Library Director Amy Raff has reported that the former laundromat contains asbestos.
Opponents are also against plans to bypass normal town permitting channels though the Planning Board and other panels. The Town Board had backed up the library’s exemption from the process through a memorandum of understanding, but Supervisor Jeremy Wilber recently clarified the memorandum only covers a building within the former laundromat’s 1,080-square-foot dimensions.
Former Planning Board Chairman and vocal annex opponent John Ludwig told trustees he reviewed all 18 annex proposals submitted. He said the one from architect Zi Sanchez of Yonkers made the most sense, since it called for turning the former laundromat into a solar canopy to power the library and using the existing library property for expansion.
Ludwig, addressing criticism for not speaking out earlier, said the project was a modest $500,000 expansion until October 2013, when costs ballooned.
Trustee Geoffrey Hanowitz said the $500,000 figure was conceived by the board before it really knew what the expansion was going to involve. He explained labor costs are a major factor. “When a municipal building goes over $500,000, the Wicks Law goes into effect,” Hanowitz said. “Wages, salaries, everything doubles, triples.” The Wicks Law mandates that municipal projects must pay prevailing wages when the cost of the project rises above $500,000.