If you take a look at the Plattekill Public Library’s website, you’re likely to marvel at all the services available there and all the programming that it manages to cram into each week: two events, most days. “We offer the largest summer reading program I’ve seen,” with separate sessions for kids, teens and adults, says library director John Georghiou.
There are at least two storytimes for young children each week, some of them involving reading therapy dogs, plus a weekly Lego Club, a biweekly knitting/crocheting group and lots of crafts workshops for all ages. In addition to recommending books, the staff — board-certified librarians with MLS degrees — will help you search for a job, investigate your family tree, learn a new language, take a practice Scholastic Aptitude Test or use a wide variety of research software. “It’s not just about books; it’s about information,” says Valerie Smith, vice president of the library’s board of directors.
But the truly remarkable thing about the Plattekill Library is that, since its founding in the 1980s, it has managed to provide all these services in such an old, shabby, cramped, inaccessible space. “When the glaciers retreated, the locals built this building as a school,” Georghiou jokes about the 1930s structure, located at 2047 Route 32 in Modena. “My Aunt Hilda, who’s now 98 ½, attended school here,” Smith adds.
By the 1960s, the school district was using the building for storage, later selling it to the Town of Plattekill for $1 to provide a home for the library upstairs and a community center downstairs — “the only public meeting room in the Town of Plattekill,” according to Smith. The library can use that meeting room, seating 45, “when available”; otherwise, it can only accommodate up to 25 users at a time. There is no quiet, no privacy; only one row of bookshelves separates users of a row of computer terminals from kids seated on the floor for storytime. “There’s no dedicated teen space,” Smith notes.
Nor is there adequate office space or a break area for staff. “Five people work in that back room,” observes board president Lynne Ridgeway. “I could not work in that environment.”
Users must also be able to negotiate a long, steep flight of stairs, or else ride a chairlift that Smith calls “really scary.” “I see the elderly come upstairs, out of breath,” says Jan Kiemangaru, an occupational therapist who uses the library regularly as her “home office.” “It is a wonderful library…a very impressive group of people. They really do need a bigger space — especially for kids.”
Smith explains that accepted best practice for a chartered public library like Plattekill’s is to provide “one square foot for each person living in the service area.” With more than 9,000 residents in the Plattekill Library District, the second floor’s 1,600 square feet of floor space amounts to only about 20 percent of what is required. Moreover, although the woodframe building has a concrete wall separating the public spaces from the original boiler room, the threat of fire is worrisome, since the library space has only one exit.
Clearly, the Plattekill Library needs to move into new quarters as soon as reasonably feasible. It’s hard for a not-for-profit to leave a place that charges no rent — especially considering the unwillingness of taxpayers to foot the bill for anything more adequate to their town’s needs. But now, seemingly, the time has come. A few years ago, Georghiou relates, “We began exploring the possibility of buying our own building.” Then a prospect for a new home “dropped into our lap,” in Smith’s words: a distressed property right in the Modena business district, within walking distance of Stewart’s and Hannaford’s in one direction and Thomas Felten Park in the other.
“Distressed” is putting it mildly: The abandoned building for sale — originally Harcourt’s Grain Mill, later expanded into what is now known locally as the Cider Mill Property — is a charmless concrete-block warehouse, crumbling at the edges and stuffed with old machinery and debris. In its current state, only true visionaries could discern a future home in it for the Plattekill Public Library that would meet Georghiou’s criteria for a space that would be “cozy, warm, friendly and inviting.” Repurposing former industrial buildings for modern uses may be all the rage these days, designwise; but the minds behind the proposed move admit that the Cider Mill is in “pretty bad shape,” and might have to be partially or entirely razed rather than renovated. There’s really nothing of historic or aesthetic interest in the old building that could be preserved or restored, and knocking it down would “eliminate an eyesore,” according to Ridgeway.
On the plus side, the existing building — located at 2032/2034 Route 32 — offers about 10,000 square feet of total floor space, on a 1.5-acre site that could offer ample parking and even room for a bus stop. An abandoned railroad bed that passes behind the Cider Mill connects to the Hudson Valley Rail Trail in neighboring Lloyd, and could potentially be transformed into a hiking trail.
The library trustees have brought in engineering consultants to do tests on the structural soundness of the building, which will be a major determining factor in what might reasonably be done with the site. “We’ll go with whatever the lower-priced option is,” says Georghiou, and the board is poised to go to closing as soon as satisfactory terms of purchase can be negotiated with the building’s owner, Vincent Peter Nemeth. Because negotiations are still in process, board members could not divulge a projected purchase price.
Meanwhile, they continue to try to line up grant funding to help with the costs of acquisition, demolition and reconstruction or renovation. State senator Bill Larkin has promised at least $10,000 in legislative line-item funds, and an expired offer of a $30,000 construction grant from the Mid-Hudson Library System might be renewed. “We’ll almost certainly have to have a bond issue,” says Smith. “People are very afraid of that, but they needn’t be. Bonding spreads the debt over a long period.”
“According to our charter, we have a mandate to meet the needs of the community,” she adds. “We’re not able to meet those needs in this building.”
For more information, visit the Plattekill Public Library website at https://plattekill.lib.ny.us. If you’re a Plattekill resident, you’re invited to provide public input as part of a community focus group that will do a SWOT analysis of the library’s space challenges, beginning at 6 p.m. on Thursday, August 27 in the room below the library.