Library board at odds over moving forward

Library Board president Stuart Auchincloss speaks while trustee Geoff Hanowitz  listens at a previous board meeting.

Library Board president Stuart Auchincloss speaks while trustee Geoff Hanowitz listens at a previous board meeting.

As the Woodstock Library Board begins to delve into its task force’s recommendations for future space needs, trustees heard an impassioned plea from the head librarian and heard thoughts from the board president on how to move forward during a February 19 meeting that exceeded four hours.

“As a librarian who absolutely adores her job and serving the community and patrons, I implore you to find a solution for the services, because every day we have to say no, we can’t help you with that. We don’t have the space, we don’t have the time, we don’t have…whatever it is, we have to say no,” librarian Jessica Kerr said. As 11 p.m. passed and people began to leave, it was the first time anyone from the staff besides Director Amy Raff had ever publicly stated an opinion. “And I’m terrified that this community will work itself into getting absolutely nothing. As board members I believe you have the mandate to move this library forward into the future,” Kerr said.

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She agreed with the library board’s Facilities Task Force recommendation to update the master plan to address all of the library’s needs, not just a wing or addition to address some deficiencies.

“As a taxpayer, I would be disappointed thoroughly to raise a bond that doesn’t solve all of the problems of this library. I feel like that would be a disservice to the taxpayers and to the future of Woodstock.”

The Facilities Task Force has recommended an addition to the library’s north side that can provide 4,500 square feet, but says it must be part of a master plan update that includes analysis of all available space and the condition of the current building.

In its final report, the FTF, which was formed to find solutions to the library’s space needs, said the $1.5 million annex proposed by architect Joel Sanders wasn’t cost-effective given its size and countered that a separate building required additional infrastructure and staff. It did note the proposed site, formerly the Library Laundromat, is suitable for building something of smaller size.

After serving as co-chair of the task force, board president Stuart Auchincloss has changed his opinion of the annex, originally thought of as a way of at least meeting some of the library’s space needs. Auchincloss now thinks it would not be possible to revisit the annex as planned based on the library’s agreement with the town board.

“It is my opinion that the town board has taken a public position that says that the size building that we’ve been talking about isn’t what the town board understood was the size building” Auchincloss said. “I think it would risk a serious rift in the town if the library and the town board couldn’t decide what was in the MOU and went to court over it.”

The library and town board signed a memorandum of understanding, or MOU, based on the library’s assertion that as a separate taxing entity, it is exempt from planning and zoning oversight. Supervisor Jeremy Wilber has stated the MOU was based on understanding the annex footprint would be no larger than the former laundromat.

“So, I think that the situation is different from what it was then. If we want to build a building with an MOU, it needs to have a smaller footprint. And if we want to build a building that has a larger footprint, I think we have to go through the town planning process across the street,” Aucincloss said. “So, I think that our situation is not the same. I don’t think that we can go back to the status quo as it was. We’d have to deal with a new condition.”

Trustee Geoff Hanowitz disagreed. He thinks the library is exempt from oversight regardless of the MOU or the town’s interpretation of it. “I don’t want to operate under the threat of legal action. We are not bound by town ordinances and that’s it,” he said.

But Auchincloss countered that public acceptance is more important. “When the taxpayers are paying the lawyers on both sides, it’s going to tear the town apart,” he said.

Auchincloss said he favors the task force recommendation to update the master plan by having a professional architect with library expertise provide input. “As for what we build, whether it’s a wing in back or something else, I don’t think we need to make that decision until we have updated the master plan,” he said. “So my personal recommendation is that we do go through that process, public relations and all, and in the end, we’ll see what the recommendations are, what the needs are, what would be the most efficient thing to build. And by that time, the community should have a pretty good idea of what we’re talking about and why we’re talking about it.”

But Hanowitz said a new master plan is nothing more than “kicking the can down the road” and will set back development plans six months to a year.

Though some trustees are in favor of revisiting the annex, most agree with a first step of hiring a master plan architect. Trustee Doris Goldberg said she was grateful for the task force and its service, noting it has taken acrimony and controversy to get people talking about the library. Still, she thinks the annex is worth a shot. “I think the idea we came up with is doable sooner,” she said. She is amenable to bringing in an architect, possibly even Joel Sanders, to look at the master plan.

Trustee Dorothea Marcus complimented the task force for getting “up to speed quickly” and said she doesn’t think a bond issue is completely out of reach. “I’m fairly new to the board. I may be naive, but I don’t see a bond issue as being impossible,” Marcus said. She is in favor of updating the master plan.

Trustee Katryna Barber said an architect could potentially be a neutral party that could bring expertise on how libraries function.

But Trustee Barry Miller doesn’t see the point in updating the master plan.

“I feel like I’m in groundhog day. This is going on over and over and over again. In 2007, we had a master plan,” Miller said. “I feel like I’m not moving anywhere. I’m just treading water.”

Hanowitz said he wants to move forward, but progress is being thwarted by people trying to run the library board through letters to the editor. “If we get nothing done at the end of the year, people are going to be politicking for your seat saying this board is inept,” he said, referring to Auchincloss and Barber, who will be up for re-election. “And they’ll be right.”

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One more push for the annex

Friends of the Library President Claudia Gahagan and Vice President Michael Hunt said the Joel Sanders plan makes more sense than an addition in the back and that most of the legwork on it is done. It wouldn’t have needed a bond as plans were to raise the money needed through private donations, Hunt said. A bond for a more expensive addition faces long odds, he feels. Even as the economy was peaking in 2007, “the mere possibility of a library bond vote was defeated,” he said. “So now with taxpayers’ dollars worth less than they were 7 years ago, is it responsible or realistic to ask taxpayers to pay for a $3 million bond?”

As a matter of clarification, no bond issue was up for a vote in 2007. Voters defeated 1,062-216 a measure to effectively double the operating budget to $1,163,003. Library officials had hoped the extra funds would allow them to finance a proposed $6 million renovation and expansion project. Voters, lacking confidence in the board, also rejected the budget for the following year, even after it was reduced to $537,772.

Hunt also argued the addition is not cost-effective when compared to the annex, despite claims from the task force. The addition would have 4500 square feet, but requires tearing down the 1700-square-foot book barn. The net gain is really 2800 square feet, which brings the cost to $1,600 per square foot, much higher than the annex, Hunt claims.

Finances are also an issue. Hunt said the Friends have a verbal commitment of $120,000, but that will only be available if the annex is built.

“Imagine the gifts we would receive if we even had the chance to try,” Gahagan said. “Can you really afford to alienate the big-money donors and everyone else who donated to the JSA annex?

 

One more plan

Architect Joseph Hurwitz, who designed the Hurley Ridge Market, the new Company 1 firehouse in Woodstock and the Esopus Town Hall among other local buildings, took a stab at the annex. He said it can provide 4,200 square feet on the same small footprint as the laundromat. Claiming to have spent 150 hours on drawings and a model, Hurwitz said it is one of the best things he’s ever done.

“The village is getting sick. I have the ability to inoculate you from getting sick,” he told the board.

Regardless of what is built, Auchincloss said he will talk to some architects and invite them to a special board meeting to discuss logistics and cost of updating the master plan.