The architect of the Saugerties library renovation told Woodstock library trustees at their March 5 meeting that public participation is key to any successful project. “I commend you for putting together a task force, for trying to address it globally and getting more input. My recommendation is that you sort of have to start from a clean slate,” said Paul Mays, who works only on libraries at his Ballston Spa firm Butler Rowland Mays. “My suggestion is it’s time to take a step back for a second. It doesn’t mean we throw everything out but it means we want to re-evaluate it from a position of knowledge, from a position of understanding these were the variables then. These are the variables now.”
Mays thinks a master plan update does not have to be a drawn-out, yearlong process. Instead, it could be completed in a few months, depending on the availability of the public. “In your case, I think healing community rifts becomes an important part of what the master plan has to be,” he said.
Trustees, with the help of Friends of the Library, were ready to continue the planning and fundraising process for an annex designed by Joel Sanders Architect on the site of the former Library Laundromat. But a vocal opposition formed about a year ago, trustees put the project on hold, sought public input and formed a task force to revisit the 2007 master plan to address the library’s space needs.
The Facilities Task Force recommended an update to the master plan by an architect well-versed in libraries and suggested an addition to the back of the library may be a way to address space needs.
Mays said if he were consulting the library, he might work in phases and that could even include the now controversial annex. “I looked at the (Joel Sanders) design. I will say I think it’s a good design. I think it’s a good first step and in fact I would have recommended probably something similar. That site was available,” Mays said. “When you look back at the original master plan, several of the priority items had to do with public space and meeting areas. This was an opportunity to do that in a way that didn’t make it obsolete for other improvements to the other space.”
Mays addressed trustees on steps to update the Library’s 2007 master plan. He said it should be done in phases with the public providing input at every step of the way. First, start out by figuring out what the needs are before even thinking about site plans and designs, he said.
“That’s a very different presentation isn’t it, than selling somebody on a project,” he said. “We are asking their opinions and whether you agree that our priorities for programs and what we’re trying to accomplish are legitimate.”
Two step process
But Trustee Geoffrey Hanowitz, who sat on a task force two years ago that recommended an annex as a way to immediately address space needs, says there should really be only two steps, the annex being the first and a new library being the second. Hanowitz said the community can’t afford a large bond for an addition in the back of the library, such as recommended by the Facilities Task Force, and that the annex would be financed by donors. “Save the bond for replacing the library. We’re overtaxed already,” he said.
Mays stressed that while the while he was offering his opinion as a professional, what is really important is going to the community and asking what its opinion is. He used Saugerties as an example, noting trustees there had 13 criteria for an expansion or new site and that the Carnegie library in the village chosen as the site was not the best option.
But, he said, “it became very clear with Saugerties that even though that site didn’t meet all the criteria, it was the only one the community would support.” The key, Mays said, is to get opinions on what the priorities are before moving to the engineering phase of any project. “You don’t want to go too far down this path without verifying that yes, these are the things we’re trying to solve and these are different ways we can do that.”
After identifying priorities, the next step is to “reconcile the site or sites against the priorities and goals and come up with conceptual strategies and cost comparisons,” said Mays. Again, trustees should seek public input at this point. “We’d interview not just the staff who work here every day, but also stakeholders throughout the community,” he said.
When library board President Stuart Auchincloss asked how much a master plan update would typically cost, Mays said lack of public trust is a factor. “Your project has a reputation,” he said, adding any firm responding to a request for proposals would account for the fact there is a lot of “public angst.” He thinks it could cost $30,000-$35,000.
Mays recommends holding public charettes, or meetings in which the general public and stakeholders form discussion groups and come up with solutions. He suggested holding at least two charettes or workshops, then speaking to smaller groups to build interest for the project. “You have a fiduciary responsibility as trustees of this institution to make sure you’re representing your constituents and this community. Engaging them in the process, to me, is not only something you should be doing, but it benefits the project as well,” Mays said.
Part of the goal, trustee Jesse Jones said, is to “decrease the chance of surprises” when a plan is finally unveiled.”
“Everyone knows why the decisions have been made and hopefully…even if I don’t agree with a situation, I at least understand why it was made and I support the institution because I love the library and I love whatever it is that it’s doing,” Mays said.