Friends seek to promote annex plan

(Photo by Dion Ogust)

(Photo by Dion Ogust)

Despite a task force’s recommendation for an addition, the Friends of the Woodstock Library continue to urge trustees not to abandon the annex plan, arguing there is still plenty of support.

Friends of the Library President Michael Hunt presented Library Director Amy Raff with 163 postcards that read “I am a member of the greater Woodstock community and I support the annex.” Noting the pile of cards was collected in one day of canvassing, Hunt said they came from a broad spectrum of socioeconomic backgrounds and ages. “Your project is visionary. Let’s build it,” Hunt said.

Bearsville resident Shawn DeLisio told the board he recently communicated with 70 people in the community who were all behind the annex. Most, he said, were unaware the annex plan was on hold. “A lot of people didn’t come out and support it because they didn’t realize it was about to evaporate,” DeLisio said.

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“Welcome to Woodstock, where everything gets discussed and discussed and argued about,” said Friends of the Library member Sheila Isenberg, calling the annex “quite a beautiful building.” She listed some of the many projects in town that have faced years of opposition including the post office, fire department, monastery and Woodstock Commons affordable-housing complex. Isenberg noted the annex is attractive because it is going to be paid for by government grants and private donors.

The facilities task force has recommended, in a list of preliminary conclusions, that an addition on the rear of the library up to 6,000 square feet in size and possibly two stories be built. It said that while the annex site is buildable, environmental and other issues make the existing library far more feasible for expansion. It also noted that private donations may not be enough to finance an addition and that a bond may be necessary.

The task force was formed as a response to an apparent growing public mistrust over the handing of a proposed $1.6-million annex, which was touted earlier as a $500,000 project across the street from the library on the site of the former Woodstock Laundromat. The panel was charged with reviewing the 2007 feasibility study that pointed out the need for more space and to explore some alternatives to the annex proposed by the public. It will make a final report to the library trustees.

The chosen annex design by Joel Sanders Architect 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.

Trustee Geoffrey Hanowitz said the idea of the annex was not to burden the taxpayer and to have a small project that began to address some of the needs of the community, primarily meeting space.

“This library is in desperate need of a facilities expansion now,” Hanowitz said.

Friends of the Library member Leslie Siegel called for an end to the animosity and to instead work to better the library. “When someone is in need, we come together. Well, I feel the library is in need,” she said. She also said the addition hasn’t been reviewed by professionals and it will turn out to be too expensive. “My fear is we’ll nix the annex and we’ll end up with nothing because people don’t want a $5 million bond,” Siegel said.

“My main argument is that we’re going to wind up with nothing,” Hanowitz said. “With a donor-oriented project, we have a chance.”

 

Start from scratch

Jill Fisher, a historic preservation planner with the firm Larson Fisher Associates, has an entirely different approach. She doesn’t think the annex plan will work, but she doesn’t think there’s any future in the existing building either. Very little of the original structure remains and the library entrance is from 1967.  “That’s not historic,” she said. “This building was never designed to be a library. It was cobbled together over years and years.”

Instead of spending money to add on to an outmoded building, “you might want to bite the bullet and say this building needs to be replaced,” Fisher said. Fisher, along with her partner Neil Larson, have offered to provide the library with a full assessment of whether the old library is worth saving.

 

Final recommendations

Trustees spent a considerable amount of time discussing how to handle the final report from the Facilities Task Force. They entertained the idea of reviewing a draft version, then making suggestions before the final report is issued. Trustee Elaine Hammond pointed out it is not a joint report. President Stuart Auchincloss said the board’s role is to decide how to act on the report.

Trustees ultimately decided to take time to digest the report when it is issued, then have a joint meeting to discuss how to implement the recommendations.

 

Mold problem

Hanowitz announced the firm H & H Environmental took measurements in the basement and crawl space and found mold spores. It was not surprising to trustees since the basement has a periodic water problem.

Hanowitz cited a CDC study that concluded there is correlation between mold and health problems. Respiratory issues can arise with some people if the spores get airborne.

If the mold is contained to the basement and crawl space, it shouldn’t be an issue since the public does not venture to that part of the building, he said. To be safe, Hanowitz advised mold measurements be taken inside the library and that the library purchase an industrial dehumidifier to keep the basement dry. He said the dehumidifier will keep mold from growing since it needs damp air and is a lot cheaper than remediation.

 

Clearing up the funding

Raff addressed concerns raised in a letter to the editor from Siegel about whether the more than $200,000 raised for the annex would have to be returned if it is not built.

Raff said the state grants, amounting to about $22,000 for asbestos abatement and demolition of the former laundromat and moving a utility pole, were contingent on the annex, but she is in discussions with the state.

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“I know I sound vague and strange, but the whole thing is vague and strange. I’ve been told by the state to go ahead with the demolition and abatement,” Raff said.

Most of the rest comes from donors, whom Raff thinks will be understanding and supportive of any new direction the library may go with its expansion.

“I think we owe it to the higher-end donors the courtesy to discuss it with them,” she said.