Members of the Woodstock Library’s newly appointed facilities task force conducted their first meeting in a spirit of cooperation and fostering of ideas, and tentatively decided to keep their meetings open to the public.
The 12-member panel met July 29 to set goals and ground rules for learning lessons from the past and how to move forward on planning the library’s space needs, whether it be building an annex or adding on to the existing building.
Facilitating the first meeting were members of Woodstock Our Town, a group formed to help people better communicate about issues concerning the town.
“It’s important that we operate in an honest and sincere way,” said Woodstock Our Town member Terry Funk-Antman. “Despite the fact it’s been very wedded to an idea, it’s willing to step backwards,” she said of the new task force. She also told the panel that the idea is to fight the problem, not each other.
The task force was formed as a response to growing public mistrust over the handing of a proposed $1.6-million annex across the street from the library on the site of the former Woodstock Laundromat. The panel is tasked with reviewing the 2007 feasibility study that led to the current annex design and to explore some alternatives proposed by the public. It will make a report to the library trustees.
The annex design by Joel Sanders Architect was chosen from a request for proposals. It includes a 2,050 square feet of space on an 1,800-square-foot footprint 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.
The figure grew from $500,000 when library trustees realized the needed facilities outlined in the study couldn’t be built for that cost.
Reserving the right to close the meetings
After discussing the mechanics of the first few meetings and working out scheduling conflicts, the task force debated the pros and cons of having open meetings. Ultimately, the group decided to keep the meetings open, but reserved the right to close them if they felt the meetings’ results weren’t clear and it was fueling more acrimony. Task force member Martin Nystrom is concerned that things discussed at a meeting are portrayed in the media through the bias of the reporter and can tend to polarize the group. People then tend to be careful about what they say. He suggested the meetings be closed, but minutes be made public.
But member Jerry Washington called closing the meetings “a slap in the face” and said it goes against the idea of a library as a clearinghouse of ideas. Joe Mangan said he feels strongly that the meetings should remain open and that the perception of closed meetings in the past is what led to an erosion of trust by the public.
Trustee and task force member Elaine Hammond agreed that open meeting could lead to more acrimony. “The public has the chance to speak every month at the board meetings,” she said.
And member Tim Moore said he was torn because he is concerned the vocal opponents to the current annex plan will hear what they want to hear. “We need to diffuse that adversarial energy and come together,” Moore said.
But, cautioned Washington, “Any mistrust is going to be amplified if we don’t have open meetings. Our problem is to get the job done in a positive, optimistic manner.”
Member Maria DeFranco, who originally thought closed meetings would foster more ideas, changed her mind after hearing the varying opinions. “I now feel we should just have them open. Having them closed will breed mistrust,” she said.
Hoping for ‘something better’
Despite an initial difference of opinions on open meetings, the group was largely agreeable about how to move forward. To kick things off, each task force member was asked what they hope to get out of their experience serving on the panel and what they can bring to the table.
“I hope we can come up with something better than what the library’s been working on for the past two years,” said library board President Stuart Auchincloss, who also serves as the task force chair.
Nystrom said he hopes the group can step back and go to a time before the former laundromat was purchased and look at the big picture. Esther Ratner, a former library trustee, said discussion should include where libraries are going in the future since technology is changing their mission and space needs.
Washington, whose background is as a product planner for IBM, said the library needs to think of itself as a business, where the community are the stockholders. “The library has to produce a product,” he said.
DeFranco, who sat on the original Annex Task Force, hopes to see more action. “I want us to build something. I want to see us not make a study, but to answer the problem,” she said.
Member and Library Director Amy Raff reminded everyone the library exists to serve the community. She hopes for a “thoughtful and workable recommendation…I’m a librarian, so I believe I know about libraries and how things function,” Raff said. “I hope we have civil discourse and respect one another regardless of our backgrounds.”
“We sit here as a sisterhood and brotherhood of friends. We should be willing to ask really stupid questions and not be inhibited,” Nystrom said.
Task force members agreed to familiarize themselves with the 2007 feasibility study, the 2012 annex request for proposals and the library’s five-year plan before the next meeting. The task force next meets August 5 at 6:30 p.m. in the library.