A formal presentation of the Woodstock Library Board’s Facilities Task Force’s final report on library expansion prompted few questions from library trustees, drew comparisons to Alice in Wonderland and energized pleas to construct the planned annex at the former Library Laundromat.
“We tried to look at what was realistic financially,” said task force member Eliza Kunkel, noting that its recommendation of an addition as a wing on the library’s north side could serve as an anchor for yet another expansion or renovation down the road.
The report suggests the library focus on a north-side addition that while connected to the main building, could be standalone and serve as temporary quarters if and when the library starts a renovation. The addition, estimated at $2.3 million, would accommodate up to 4,500 square feet of space, though that would be decided by a master plan architect. Economies of scale can come from a centralized heating and air conditioning system as opposed to duplication necessary in a separate building. While the cost is more than the annex, it would provide more than double the space.
The annex on the site of the former Library Laundromat, besides a higher cost per square foot, has site restrictions and environmental issues associated with building close to Tannery Brook, the report says.
While touted as being a better deal than the annex, the suggested addition must be part of an updated master plan that encompasses all available space including the former laundromat, the report concluded.
While the report delves into the cost of building an entirely new library, Trustee Geoffrey Hanowitz asked why that would ever entail moving the library to a new location.
Task force member Martin Nystrom, calling the current building a “sinkhole of money,” said building a new library would afford the opportunity to find a bigger better site, such as the lower Comeau parking area. The land under the current library is valued at $1-1.5 million and could be sold to finance the new building, he suggested.
Task force member Joe Mangan said a revised master plan will force the question and should resolve it. “Personally I don’t think you’d move the library, but it’s worth a discussion,” Mangan said.
The benefit of such a master plan is “new eyes with expertise,” said Barry Miller, a trustee and task force member. “I think the first thing we do is hire a consultant that has expertise in libraries.”
Board member Barry Samuels wanted to know if the task force determined that the Town Board was “snookered” into agreeing to the memorandum of understanding that would have made the annex possible.
The memorandum of understanding, or MOU, was based on the library’s assertion that as a separate taxing authority, it could bypass planning and zoning oversight. The Town Board has since said the MOU was based on a building no larger than the former laundromat and at 1,800 square feet, the annex plan would require coming back to the table.
Task force member Jerry Washington said that wasn’t the panel’s charge. “We did not go into seeing if there were any shenanigans,” Washington said.
Cost is ‘fluid’
Nystrom said everyone on the task force agreed it was a “logical and wise choice,” to purchase the former laundromat. The question of what to do with it remains.
Miller lamented the failed 2007 renovation and expansion proposal, and said it might have eliminated the need for an addition or an annex. “It was a complete overhaul,” Miller said. “All of the things people are complaining about would have been addressed.”
The 2007 plan was an expansion and extensive renovation, but voters balked at effectively doubling the library’s budget to make the payments on a $6 million project.
Unlike the proposed annex, the task force suggests a bond may be necessary to finance part of an addition, but trustees are apprehensive after the failed 2007 project.
Miller asked if the board would publicly support the bond vote effort. All members said they’d wholeheartedly support the effort on the condition that the library update its master plan.
Town councilman and library liaison Jay Wenk suggested cost is a fluid thing, but steps can be taken to control it. He pointed out the acoustic panels in Town Hall that were donated. Wenk donated his labor to build the judge’s bench and Councilman Bill McKenna built the elaborate steps on the back side of the bench, both resulting in curbing costs for the Town Hall renovation.
Hanowitz said while people were shocked at the annex’s $1.6 million price tag, he doesn’t think it would have even approached that number if the board was given a chance to work with the architect to cut costs. “When we left the Joel Sanders plan, we did it a week, two weeks after we got the numbers,” he said. “There was no negotiating.”
The original plan was to build something small costing no more than $500,000. Anything more than that and a municipal project must abide by a state law requiring prevailing labor wages. “We didn’t want to deal with Wick’s Law,” Hanowitz said. “I’m sure we could have negotiated a building for a lot less money.”
On the MOU, Hanowitz said it wasn’t the board’s idea. “We didn’t suggest it. It came from our lawyer.”
Based on the reaction to the annex, Hanowitz thinks the board should still bypass local oversight even if it decides to build an addition. “Most of the people who write letters are on the boards, so I don’t know how we’ll ever get a fair trial.”
A brick wall
“I feel like I’m in Alice in Wonderland,” said Sheila Isenberg, a Friends of the Library member. “This is so surreal. I can’t believe this is happening,” said Isenberg, who as a 38-year resident has seen many big projects go through protracted discussion. “It’s so surreal because we had a beautiful idea. Everything stopped. Boom. Stopped, as if we had hit a brick wall.”
Isenberg said the controversy amounts to nothing more than a “handful of screaming, pissed off people.” She said a master plan may be a good idea but asked why the annex can’t be built in the meantime.
Isenberg criticized a report by Hartley Consulting that says the library board doesn’t have the resources for a big fundraising campaign and pointed out the Friends of the Library has a “fundraising department” and continues to raise funds for the library.
“I was approached to donate a few years ago. The first thing I said was ‘where’s your master plan.’” Mangan responded. “I feel you have to look at the big picture and we were charged with looking at the big picture. If the annex shakes out to be the best first step, so be it, but it has to be part of the big picture.”
Task force member Tim Moore said he was excited about the annex at first, but then discovered the handicap accessibility challenges and other issues with the constrained building site. “We started with the scope of looking at the entire campus,” Moore said. “There was so much I loved about the annex, but it wasn’t meeting the broad-spectrum needs of the library.
Isenberg later made another pitch for the annex, but board President Stuart Auchincloss took steps to move along the discussion. Some who had signed up to speak complained too much time was taken by a back-and-forth dialogue and by people speaking out of turn. As the hour passed 9 p.m., several would-be speakers left.
Friends of the Library President Claudia Gahagan said she agreed with many parts of the report, such as the call for a change in tone.
“I have no score to settle. I have no political motivation, especially now,” she said.
Still, Gahagan pushed for the annex, saying the legwork is done and funds were raised. She had a list of questions for the task force, but at the late hour decided to let the members respond via email.
Library trustees plan to begin discussing the report at their regular meeting Thursday, February 19 at 7 p.m. in the library. The report can be downloaded in PDF format at woodstock.org/ftf.