Library Task Force considers the long run

(Photo by Dion Ogust)

(Photo by Dion Ogust)

The panel charged with recommending solutions to the Woodstock Library’s space needs realizes that the future isn’t just about an addition or annex, and plans to voice that in its final recommendations.

At some point, said facilities task force member Joe Mangan at a January 13 meeting, a decision has to be made whether to continue maintaining the current library building or to ultimately replace it. The 11-member group has convened almost weekly since the past summer to research and recommend solutions to the library’s needs.

The panel will recommend an addition of approximately 4,500 square feet on the current library property — though even that number isn’t firm — as a more cost-effective solution than a proposed 1,800-square-foot annex on the former Library Laundromat grounds. However, the report will avow that the new space will only solve needs for the near future.


What’s important to the Facilities Task Force is the consultation of a master plan architect who will study available resources and offer possible solutions to fulfill needs down the road. Plans for the distant future may include additional expansions, or, once the current library building outlives its useful life, a new facility. The library’s plan hasn’t been updated since 2007, when voters overwhelmingly defeated a $5 million renovation proposal.

“If the decision is ‘wow, this is a money pit,’ then you have to incorporate that in your plan,” said task force member Eliza Kunkel, who has been taking input from the panel and the public and crafting it into the final recommendation document.

But the task force doesn’t want to raise any alarm bells that the library will get torn down anytime soon. Mangan, an architectural engineer, said that could be 30 years down the road.

“We have a building that is repairable,” said member Jerry Washington. “I don’t think we should open the possibility that it’s not.”

The task force was formed as a response to public reaction over the proposed $1.6-million annex across the street from the library on the site of the former Library Laundromat. The panel’s chore has been to review 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 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.

Although the annex was to be funded by private donations, trustees put the project on hold after public doubts about cost-effectiveness of the design and the ability to raise enough money. To date, the library has raised about $210,000, mostly through donations. Much of that money has been spent on acquiring the former laundromat, engineering and architectural fees.


What about the Friends?

The figure of 4,500 square feet, estimated from the library’s programming needs, doesn’t include space for Friends of the Library, a longtime booster group that raises much-needed money through book sales and the annual Library Fair. The group now uses 1,500 square feet in a dilapidated barn that frequently floods and suffers from mildew issues.

To date, the Friends of the Library has offered little input on their space needs other than a recent campaign urging resurrection of the annex plan.

The expansion proposal calls for demolishing the barn and building a larger structure in its place. Replacing that space is a thorny issue because the Friends of the Library is a separate private entity.

“We don’t know the legal aspects of building something for the Friends,” Mangan said.


Conveying the message

The task force discussed the importance of condensing the final report into an executive summary since not everyone will want to digest the entire document. Several suggested explaining the issue’s background in the summary for members of the public who haven’t followed it from the beginning.

But Kunkel said the task force needs to focus on its audience.

“Our mission was to write a recommendation to the board (of trustees). We’re speaking to the board, not somebody who is not familiar with the issue,” said Kunkel. As for anyone else, “If they haven’t been paying attention up to now, they’re not going to read the whole thing anyway.”

Washington suggested the entire summary could be boiled down to three paragraphs and the rest could be included in a background section.

Co-chair and library board President Stuart Auchincloss envisions the summary as an introduction to an all-inclusive electronic report with links to sections and other material so that people could read just the areas that interest them.


An issue of civility

The task force is grappling with how to address tension over the project that is back on the rise after calming down this fall. A current draft of the executive summary and other references in the report body call for a change in tone. While all task force members agree with that sentiment, the question is where it belongs in a formal document.

“It seems like the battle lines have hardened,” Kunkel said. “It doesn’t seem like anything is going to happen if a more constructive tone doesn’t happen. It’s just about our hope that the summary might kick off a conversation with a new tone.”