Library ‘Friends’ at odds with Task Force conclusions

(Photo by Dion Ogust)

(Photo by Dion Ogust)

The Woodstock Library’s facilities task force unveiled its proposal for expansion to the public, but at least two members of the library’s board of directors as well as the not for profit group Friends of the Library aren’t impressed.

In eight recommendations it calls Preliminary Conclusions, the task force suggests building an approximately 6,000-square-foot addition to the north side and attached to the existing library and putting off the planned streamside annex for another time.
Of equal importance to the task force is the drafting of a master plan by someone with experience in libraries and addressing the deficiencies of the current library. Any new construction should make the most efficient use of land and be “both architecturally inspirational and fiscally responsible.”

The entire list of conclusions was published in the November 26 edition of Woodstock Times.

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Despite the task force’s almost weekly meetings since July, library trustee and former annex task force member Geoffrey Hanowitz said he was “very disappointed” in the new panel’s findings and recommendations. “Why are we here tonight?” he asked. “If I believed your recommended approach was better than the annex, I’d stand behind it. But as it is, I can’t stand it,” said Hanowitz, who wonders why nobody from the task force contacted architect Joel Sanders who proposed the annex design.

“Who hires an architect, spends tens of thousands of dollars on designs and consulting, then walks away?” asked Hanowitz, noting $210,000 was spent on purchasing the property and paying architects and consultants. He feels he has a fiduciary responsibility as a trustee to account for that money and answer to the donors who contributed most of the money.

Hanowitz said he will not sit on any committee that asks for money for the recommended addition and accused the task force of completely ignoring the proposed annex in its deliberations.

Task force co-chair Maria DeFranco took exception. “The concept that the FTF did not look at the annex is a fallacy,” she said.

“This is not a report. This is a bunch of unanswered questions,” argued Hanowitz.

As DeFranco responded, Hanowitz interrupted and was cautioned by task force chair and library Board President Stuart Auchincloss to let people take their turn speaking.

“Our mission was to look at the best ways to get the space needs for the programs fulfilled,” said DeFranco, a professional architect. “It didn’t come up that the annex was the best way.”

The task force found the annex construction to be a “very difficult and expensive solution” to dealing with an environmentally sensitive building site compared to building an addition to the current building, which doesn’t have the same issues. A major issue was the raising of annex foundation on piers to keep it above the floodplain, adding a great expense.

The task force extensively reviewed the annex, DeFranco said, including details such as programming, equipment and furniture. She said it uncovered factors such as energy efficiency and privacy issues raised by the annex’s glass walls and the reduction of parking spaces caused by the building’s footprint.

“I feel we have looked at the annex. It is true we have not called Sanders,” said DeFranco. “We discussed not calling Sanders in term of saving money. We didn’t want to generate another bill.”

Hanowitz was not mollified.

“We raised all this money and the whole community was involved. We spent $210,000 and then all of a sudden people came in and said ‘no you can’t do that,’” he said. “I’m not going to turn my back on those donors.”

The task force was formed as a response to a perceived 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 was asked to review a 2007 feasibility study that pointed out the need for more space and to explore some alternatives to the proposed annex.

The chosen annex design by Joel Sanders Architect includes a 2,050 square feet of space on an 1,800-square-foot footprint across Library Lane. It would include 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.

 

Too much hype, ‘old farts’

Leslie Siegel, a Friends of the Library board member, implored the task force to resurrect the annex proposal since the legwork is already done and opposition is overhyped.

“As the conversation has been driven away from the annex in the past year, public opposition to the annex has never been as strong as some in this room claim,” Siegel said. “In fact, even with dozens of negative letters and news articles, most residents don’t have any knowledge or personal opinion either way.” Siegel cautioned moving to an addition would impact the library’s reputation with the state and jeopardize grants already received. Grants of $12,000 for the purchase of the former laundry and $10,000 for asbestos abatement were based on annex construction. “We would not have gotten the grant money to make a parking lot or put in a book barn,” Seigel said.

The addition, while possibly more cost-effective per square foot, could cost much more than the annex, and Siegel is not so sure Woodstockers will be receptive. “Past history has shown that the people of Woodstock are not inclined to spend large sums of money on their library. It is politically naive to think otherwise,” Siegel said.

From the assembled citizens, Peter Koch implored the task force to “keep things small,” noting Woodstock is a small town and should stay that way. For environmental reasons, Koch opposes the annex, but also thinks the library should keep the expansion wing option within reason. “We already have a library that’s functioning quite well. I question the 6,000 square feet.”

Task force member Joe Mangan replied that the 6,000-square-foot number hasn’t been set in stone and is based on the 2007 feasibility study. The task force recommends hiring a library programmer and it may turn out the figure is 3,000 or 4,000 square feet.

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Task force member Martin Nostrum said a two-story building is the only thing that makes sense given the limited amount of land. He said it would by “crazy” to occupy land for only a single-story addition and the library should expand as much as it reasonably can.

Architect David Stein told the task force he can build space for 30 percent less than the expansion plan because his idea is a modified form of the annex and doesn’t involve demolishing the book barn. “I think fiscal responsibility dictates we stick with the horse have,” Stein said. “We have to build something now or we will never do anything. Or this town will end up swimming in the same morass we’ve been in.”

An often vocal opponent of the annex, Hera suggested the task force be held over as a “balancing body” to future board discussions about expansion, but task force member Eliza Kunkel thought that would be overstepping boundaries. “I wasn’t elected by the public. The board was elected by the public. I think it would be a lot of hubris” to act as another board, Kunkel said.

Task force member Tim Moore has spoken about an expansion in terms of getting more “bang for the buck,” with the task force working on the “bang” and details of the “buck” through fundraising and other means will come later.

But library trustee Barry Samuels, who also doesn’t want to throw out the annex plan, took exception to that term. Samuels calls it a euphemism for “cheap.” He said the idea of a pre-engineered building at the rear of the library does not meet the definition of being architecturally inspirational in the Colony of the Arts, but perhaps “can be more useful for a Colony of Old Farts.”

The task force will tweak its recommendations based on public input at the meeting before reporting to the library board, which will make the ultimate decision.

There is one comment

  1. Marc Glasser

    Let’s look at this logistically. It would be far better to have all the services under one roof, than to have to go back and forth across the street for one thing or another. Also, maintaining and heating (and cooling) a single building would cost less. Use the existing site and sell the parcel across the street. As Mr. Hanowitz is particularly concerned with our generous donors, the money can then be used productively and towards the ultimate goal of a newly enhanced library with more amenities in one building. Maybe the first theory of jumping to purchase more land, ie. the old laundromat, was presumptuous in that it really does not work well for meeting the libraries goals. If you realize this fact, the expansion of the existing building sounds logical.

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