Woodstock Library Board leans toward a new building

(Photo by Dion Ogust)

A majority of the Woodstock Library Board of Trustees has agreed a brand-new library is the best and most cost-effective option and members hope to take an official vote at a special meeting March 2 after more discussion.

Faced with a choice of five concepts presented by library planners ADG Cohn ranging from a renovation of the library and replacement of the book barn to complete demolition and new construction, the board believes the latter is the best choice.

“I think the preponderance of comments at the public meeting and we’re getting online is that people get…people understand that it’s more efficient and a better use of money, better cost-benefit to build new,” said board President Dorothea Marcus. “And we’ll have better lighting and better environmental and better energy costs, and I think we would get support for that.”

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As Building Committee Chair Jill Fisher noted, the cost to the average homeowner for a $5 million bond is $66.69 per year for 30 years based on revised calculations, something she thinks is palatable when presented in those terms.

A new library is estimated at $5.75 million, but Fisher’s calculations assume the rest will come from state grants.

“Demolishing the existing building and constructing a new library in its place seems to me to be the only concept that provides a true, long-range solution to the community’s needs for an up-to-date library that is operationally efficient,” Fisher said, adding a new building on the site of the current library would preserve the front lawn and most of the trees, be environmentally sensitive and conserve energy.

“I believe it could be designed in such a way that would preserve Woodstock’s architectural context while providing the flexible spaces required by today’s library services,” said Fisher. “In addition, I believe designing a new building would afford some exciting architectural opportunities.”

Fisher notes the 1967 front portion of the library bears no historical significance worth saving. “This is no Carnegie library that we need to protect, and thus it’s not worthy of preservation. And I say that as someone who has been a preservation planner for most of my career,” said Fisher.

She believes a $5 million bond is “not that much more expensive for the average homeowner than any of the other concepts we’ve been considering.”

 

Financial issues

Financing is a complex topic for trustees to consider, especially when coupled with fundraising. The board’s desire was to raise as much money as possible, then only bond for the remaining balance. However, many grants are contingent on demonstrating financial solvency. The board may need to borrow the full amount, then either not draw down on the entire bond or use fundraising proceeds to pay it off early, according to Rebekkah Smith Aldrich, the Mid-Hudson Library System’s coordinator for library sustainability.

Trustee Barry Samuels was initially leaning toward a renovation of the existing library and replacement of the book barn because, at $1.75 million, as it is more affordable.

“And I hate calling it the status quo because it really isn’t. We would be fixing all the problems of this library building,” Samuels said. “My thought is we could make it cosmetically appealing so people realize that the money we spent, the 1.75 (million), really did do some changes, and not just correct problems.”

Samuels envisioned adding a two-story building three to five years later that would be funded through donations and possibly named in honor of former Supervisor Jeremy Wilber.

“The reason I’ve been thinking about this was the money. But Sam (Magarelli) pointed out to me we could still limit the taxpayer’s burden and work to get large grants, large donations.”

Samuels also considered comments from Friends of the Library Vice President Claudia Gahagan indicating it would be easier to get funding with a new building.

“Therefore, thinking what Claudia said, let’s take down this building and build a state-of-the-art building. But it would only work if we got the money. It’s all about the money and it’s all about what the options are,” Samuels said.

Fisher’s bonding calculations further bolstered his confidence the board can make a new building happen.

Board Vice President Barry Miller worried about what might be hidden in the current library. “My feelings about this building are…We keep putting money into and money into it and money into it,” he said. “We don’t know what’s inside the walls. We don’t know what’s underneath and not underneath.”

Miller favors a new library because “that would allow us to have more parking in the back. That was one of the things in the plan was to have wraparound parking. So there’d be parking in the back.”

Said Miller, “I’m also an advocate of services and things like a media lab and a performance room that the kids can go into and do things, to have plays.” He said a new building would provide flexible space that allows for different events, such as Live at the Library.

Miller said he is confused by the cost disparity between some options — such as $4.1 million for an renovation and addition versus a replacement library — that need to be clarified by architects.

Trustee Liz Rosen’s opinion has apparently evolved. “I think before the last public meeting, I was really thinking that option three, the new building in the front, leaving this one operating until that was finished, would be the way to go. After hearing, and reading, people’s feelings about the front lawn, I am really thinking I would like…that it would make the most sense to do option 4 (a new building).” Rosen said putting more money into the current building is not a long-term solution and creates more issues. “Doing the kind of renovation that we would have to do, as they pointed out, brings up ADA issues, which means we’re going to lose shelf space. So we’re going to end up with fewer books here,” she said.

Trustee Tamara Katzowitz favors a new building, but within reason. “There was a voice of reason that asked to make sure that we cap how much the taxpayer was going to be responsible for. We have an accountability to our community members to keep that as key,” she said. “When you start talking about media rooms…Right now it’s unrealistic. We’re building a building for books. And we can’t talk about having concerts on the lawn and media rooms right now.”

Added Katzowitz, “I think that we need to concentrate on being realistic and building a library and having a community center for the community without extra, extra perks that are going to make it go up thousands and thousands and thousands of dollars.”

Director Jessica Kerr noted the staff is so good at what they do despite cramped and inadequate conditions, that the community may not be as aware of underlying problems.

“Having staff in that tiny little 1812 office is really one of the saddest things I see on a daily basis,” Kerr said. “They are people are working very hard and are tripping over each other, (they) don’t have space for putting their bags, don’t have space for taking a lunch break when there’s a meeting, when there’s a program upstairs.”

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Kerr said the building was never designed to be a library, but staff has made it work over the years. “Most libraries have good sight lines, not weird corners that just don’t make sense. When we move these collections around, which we’ve done a few times, it’s always just how do we make this fit in here. We’ve done a pretty good job, but we’re always bursting at the seams.”

Former Facilities Task Force member Eliza Kunkel joined in kudos for the staff.

“I do think that the staff, in many ways, this library, has been a victim of it’s success,” she said. “The staff makes things look a lot easier than they are. And I’ve said many times that our staff does more with less than any other library in the Mid-Hudson system, and I’d love to see our staff do more with more.”

 

Preserving the lawn

Trustee Jesse Jones, who was not at the February 2 public meeting, said he’d rather take the time to formulate his comments in writing. But, Jones did take to heart the overwhelming number of pleas to save the front lawn. “I do like the idea of preserving the front lawn, because it’s not only an asset for the library, it’s an asset for the town,’” Jones said. “One of the problems in Woodstock is that by the time you get to the police station, people don’t walk this way anymore. So to make the library attractive to walk up to the lawn I think would be a real service to the town of Woodstock.”

Trustees David Lewis, Selma Kaplan and Elaine Hammond were not at the February 16 meeting. Lewis and Kaplan submitted statements in their absence in support of a new building.

“I think this option would give us the most bang for our buck. I also found Claudia Gahagan’s comment about fundraising to be quite compelling. I think she’s right that people would be more likely to donate for new construction than for renovation,” said Lewis. “As for preserving the lawn, it appears that the public favors doing so. I think that preserving the front of the property could save us from blowback as we move ahead with this project.”

Said Kaplan, “In thinking about the various (options) and talking with members of the community, I keep coming back around to one thing. We need to do it once and do it right.” Kaplan added she would love to have a new building, “but we need to be realistic about what we are asking from the taxpayers. If we can come up with enough funding to cap the taxpayer portion at somewhere between $1.5 and $2 million, my personal preference would be to build a new, energy-efficient, green building where the current building stands.”

 

Building may disappear, but library will remain

Kerr publicly made a commitment at the February 2 meeting that staff will continue to provide services even during construction or demolition and the board is ready to back that promise.

Marcus said she is in talks with people creating the Music Lab at the former Zena Elementary School. The building already has a library and space available for temporary storage. They are willing to either rent or donate space, she said.

Kerr said the former Simulaids buildings are another possibility and there always seems to be an empty storefront or two that may be used for a satellite location in the center of town.

Kunkel suggested firehouses as another possibility. “As it happens, this community has a number of satellite branches…Our fire departments,” Kunkel said. “It would seem to me to be an interesting partnership. They are buildings that are, for the most part, not occupied during the day and they have meeting spaces. It may be an opportunity to build a bridge with a very important element of our community that we can’t expect to succeed without.”

 

Don’t rush into things

Kunkel advocated a careful approach to make the expansion successful. “I am concerned you guys are trying to make a final decision. You’re rushing a final decision. I understand you feel like you’ve been at it for awhile. You’ve put a lot into it,” she said, urging trustees do more homework on the finances, including exploring what bonds are coming off the town’s books soon.

“I think you’d be well-advised to take a few months and think about the issue of financing and timing and what’s possible before you announce to the community what you’re shooting for. You’re just not there yet.”

The trustees will hold a special meeting Thursday, March 2 at 6 p.m. in the library to continue discussion and possibly vote on an option. There will be a public comment period at the end of the meeting.

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