Woodstock Library Board takes another look at renovation

Library board listens. (photo by Dion Ogust)

After a few weeks of warm, then cold weather, the publication of a monetary estimate in a headline, and an extended public comment period at the beginning of its public meeting, the Woodstock Library board of trustees on March 2 appeared to shift its view from a previously reported lean towards demolishing the existing library and building anew for $5.75 million, to what appeared to be a more definitive majority wanting to fix what they have, save what moneys they can, and eventually construct a tall annex where the organization’s old book barn now stands.

A succession of speakers politely lambasted the library’s option to build new based on fundraising concerns, while paeans to the longstanding library’s current charms and role in the community were voiced. Also raised were worries about what a second major library renewal defeat in a decade might mean for the town as well as library users.

Board members talked about the actual community responses they were using to base decisions on. Of 48 emails received, 19 were for tearing down and building anew, but nearly as many for working with what was there. Of eight speakers a month ago, five liked the build fresh concept while eight had other ideas altogether. Eleven speakers were for keeping the front lawn intact, something the board had already said it wanted, too. But the March 2 meeting heard several dozen speakers, all appearing to be against big changes.

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Recently returned trustee Tamara Katzowitz summed things up when she noted, towards the meeting’s end as board opinions started to line up against the $5.75 million option, that “We can’t use 68 responses from a community of six thousand to say, ‘Let’s get a new library.’ We have so much more to do. Where are the rest of the people; they’re not all weekenders because if they were we could build a $10 million new library. The plan isn’t going to work and if we keep pushing it we would disassociate ourselves from the community.”

By then three of the board’s nine members in attendance had already said what Katzowitz reiterated, and two had said they’d go that direction if that was how the mood was turning. By the time discussion closed, another had joined ranks with those seeking renovation and an eventual addition out back, with many of the rest speaking in terms that suggested they were ready to switch their original views.

 

Revisit Mangan plan?

Back at the meeting’s start, Library Director Jessica Kerr and library board president Dorothea Marcus expressed their delight at the SRO crowd that had come out.

Former county legislator and Onteora school board member Sam Magarelli was the first of the public to comment, noting the “bad reaction” to the recent Woodstock Times headline regarding the board’s plan and its price tag and he characterized that plan himself as “the most risky in regards to cost.”

“I think there’s a false choice, that by not doing big the library will fail,” he added. “That’s a misconception.”

Former planning board chairman John Ludwig also talked about the board’s push for “the demolition of our library” as being “spurious arguments,” stressing benefits to renovating the beloved building and its unique architectural components and history at an estimated cost of $900,000.

He and others, including Magarelli, asked that the board look again at plans for a pre-engineered annex building of two stories and 5,800 square feet put together two and a half years ago for a library board facilities committee by Joe Mangan, at a then-price tag of $1.2 million.

Jerry Washington, who lives on Library Lane, talked about past surveys of the town, including one from 1989, that showed community support for the town’s older building stock, and the library, and suggested better outreach on the board’s part. The artist and Commission on Civic Design member Hera said that “$5.75 million is not a Woodstock number.” Builder Loren Rose talked about how hired architects will try “to skin you,” and noted that by pushing for a new building, “you’ll piss off everybody.”

“Keep a sense of scale, of small town charm,” said Judy Sillato. “The sketches you’ve shown seem more suburban than the other buildings in town.”

Several people refuted an earlier statement from February about Woodstock’s donor class being more likely to write big checks for new construction instead of renovation. Town board member Cathy Magarelli talked about the town’s track record at successful renovations, most coming in under budget and gaining the love and respect of the community. Town historian Richard Heppner, newly named to the town board, backed up others’ thoughts that the library’s architect, Harvey Cohn of ADG Cohn, was being disingenuous by bringing up issues of building “efficiency and reliability.” He also brought up the same history of kids learning to read in the library, of meetings and 100 years of book-lending preceded by a century going back to the building’s service as an early doctor’s office.

“History is what, collectively, a town decides is important,” he said. “Keep the sense of this building intact.”

 

Board reactions

Only past-library board president Doris Goldberg spoke in favor of “beginning again,” instead of “being stuck fixing errors in a building never planned to be a library.”

Library board treasurer Liz Rosen began the board’s canvassing of positions by acknowledging people’s expressed love for the existing library building and noting how “renovation may be all the town will support.”

Trustee Barry Samuels said, “It’s the money; we have to afford this,” and advocated for renovation and the building of an annex similar to the previously-mentioned Joe Mangan plans. “Redo the front of the library, put in a Woodstock writers section, get new laptops, make it more welcoming,” he added. “I do not live in Westchester County, I live in Woodstock.”

David Lewis said that while he leaned towards a new building, feeling it might be more in tune with newer transplants to town, he wanted to hear more about the Mangan plan, and realized how important it was to “limit spending.”

Jill Fischer, who had been quoted earlier from a past letter in support of renovations, noted that the correspondence read during public comment had been written soon after she moved to town. She said she still wanted something new that would bring the library into ADA compliance, better serve the library staff, and not overshadow neighboring properties as a two story annex might.

Board secretary Selma Kaplan, a professional fundraiser, said she was impressed by voiced money concerns and said she was for “renovating the building as best we can and then doing what we can in the back.”

Jesse Jones read a statement about the board being building and community stewards and needing to “determine if this building is worthless” before tearing it down. He added that he was also favoring renovation and the “Mangan plan.”

Board vice president Barry Miller brought up questions regarding the library’s need for better sight lines inside as something he brought up on the same facilities committee that the Mangan plan emerged from. He, too, brought up how “new people want a new building,” reiterating his stance for building anew.

After Katzowitz’s opinion to renovate and add in back, board president Marcus spoke in terms of a previously-raised metaphor about how one goes about buying a car, and must settle for what’s affordable over what we may most desire.

“I know people are really divided,” she said. “We have to be ADA compliant here. I’m open to renovating…”

She finished by talking about how a change in tone in the way the library suggests changes was needed, and commended everyone for a civil tone that addressed an atmosphere that had previously turned toxic.

“I’m glad the Woodstock Times ran that article. I had grown concerned that we weren’t hearing from people,” said Kerr, the library director. “We’re here for the community. We don’t want to again do something people don’t want.”

The library’s next official board meeting will take place on March 16, at which point a new board member is likely to be named, and library building plans will be discussed further.

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