Woodstock Library trustees voted to further explore options for a new building while board President Dorothea Marcus remained adamant the move does not mean it is altogether abandoning a renovation.
She noted the board already has detailed plans for a renovation with an addition to the north side and the action taken March 16 allows trustees to gain more information on new construction, although with a lower budget than the plans already presented. “This is not a final decision to build new,” Marcus said in a statement issued after the meeting. “But we acknowledge that this would be more cost-efficient for the long term.”
The board made the move in a 6-1 vote after nearly an hour of discussion that followed a detailed discussion from retired architectural engineer Joe Mangan on a pre-engineered standalone building to be constructed on the north side.
“This community, I think is getting a little tired of us revisiting this over and over again,” said Building Committee Chair Jill Fisher, who made the motion. “We have to take a direction. If we say we’re going to save this building, ok. We just have to make a decision at some point and then we can move ahead.”
Trustees Fisher, Selma Kaplan, David Lewis, Dorothea Marcus, Barry Miller and Liz Rosen voted in favor of exploring options for a new building; Barry Samuels voted against the resolution, and Tamara Katzowitz abstained. Trustees Elaine Hammond and Jesse Jones were absent.
Consultants ADG/Cohn have presented five options ranging from a renovation and replacement of the book barn for $1.7 million to a complete teardown and new construction for $5.75 million.
A majority of trustees were initially in favor of new construction, then stepped back after hearing from the public at a March 2 meeting.
What has changed since then is the possibility of a lower-cost option for new construction. Now, trustees will task ADG/Cohn with presenting details on project budgets of $3.2 million, $4.5 million and $5.8 million. The consultants’ final recommendations will be presented in May, Fisher said.
Kaplan said she was supportive of a $3.2 million option because she was hoping there was something else in between the $1.75 million renovation and $5.75 million replacement. “If we could get a decent building that met our needs for $3.2 million and we could hopefully raise maybe a million of it on our own, I would love to see it happen,” said Kaplan. “And if we can’t and it’s going to be 4.5 or 5.8 (million), I don’t think we can afford it.”
Marcus said two sides of the issue pose a real challenge. “What’s hard about this decision is we clearly have two basic camps that we’ve heard from in Woodstock — which are people who really don’t want us to waste money renovating this building because it’s such an unknown and it has such major issues, health wise and otherwise, and there are people who really support our building something new,” she said. “And then there are people who are really emotionally attached to the library the way it is.”
Marcus said the library can do more to serve the larger summer population as well as year-round residents. “Whatever we decide, we want to succeed. We want to do something that’s going to be accepted by the town and voted on. What we need to do with the consultants is give them some direction going forward.”
Trustee Barry Miller said he likes the idea of a $3.2 million option because the current building is in bad shape. “The floor’s not going to collapse on us, but there’s rot, there’s all kinds of things going on with this building. Work has to be done to it,” Miller said. “My feelings are, as big as we can get for as little money as we can get, that the people can deal with, so we can put all these great things into the library, all the programming that we want to put in here, plus the books.”
Rosen is also supportive of the lower-cost option, while appreciating the sentimental attachment to the current building. “I understand the people who love this building and the people who have memories here, but I think what people need to understand is that, even if we keep this building and we renovate it, it is not going to be preserved in amber,” she said. “To me, it’s a matter of money. Ideally, I would like to see a new building. I don’t think we’re going to be able to get a $5 million building so I’m really interested in seeing some plans for lower-cost…see what we sacrifice for that. But it may well be worth it in order to get something done.”
Samuels said a new building would be preferable, but it just may not be realistic because of the cost. He suggests “building in the back with a pre-engineered building, going in phases, attacking this building a few years later, and renovating it with donations and grants that we will be able to fix this building up.”
Katzowitz said she is looking out for the taxpayers, many of whom may not be able to handle the burden of the new construction cost. “Not everyone in this community makes a healthy salary. Even though there have been many remarks stating there’s a lot of money in this community, there are a lot of older people that aren’t making that much money in this community,” she said.
Cashing in on Woodstock Festival
“In two years we have the 50th Anniversary of Woodstock,” said Samuels. “I was thinking we might have a campaign where the world contributes to our library, sending $100 and getting their name on a list. Maybe we’ll have a room that would be based on the Woodstock Festival and they could come and visit, all the whole world. Because it seems that at $100 apiece, and all the people that said they went to Woodstock, we would have $5 million.”
Added Samuels, “It’s a little off-the-wall, but timing is everything and this is a possibility as much as anything else in a sort of fundraising operation.”
Trustees thought it was a good idea for a campaign.
The Mangan approach
Joe Mangan, who also sat on the Facilities Task Force, presented his idea for a pre-engineered building in the back, something he originally proposed as an alternative to the annex.
For about $2 million, Mangan estimates the library can get a 5,700-square-foot standalone structure with a connection to the main building. All the heating and cooling infrastructure would be housed in the new building and would also serve the current library.
An advantage to the standalone approach could be that it doesn’t trigger full code compliance in the existing building.
Mangan said pre-engineered buildings can be attractive and just as structurally sound as a standard structure. They often get a bad rap because of confusion with modular buildings that come pre-assembled in sections on a truck. In a pre-engineered building, all the lumber and hardware is cut, then shipped to the site where the building is constructed.
Mangan said he has experience with and favors the post-and-beam type, which have wide-open floor plans that are customizable. There are no load-bearing walls because all the support is in the framing, he said.
Since it is a stand-alone building, construction can happen while the library is open.
“The existing library building would be minimally affected during construction. It would be a bit noisy, but you could mitigate that. It’s not a big deal in my estimation,” Mangan said.
“The renovation of the library can be a future phase, and that’s very important, because if you can only raise $2 million or $3 million it doesn’t stop the project.”
Added Mangan, “You could even, if you decided you wanted a new library, but you can’t build the whole library now, you could do a conceptual design of a whole new library with the back wing as part of that,” Mangan said. “And then attach it to this building and in five years or ten years or whatever, complete the second phase and rip this building down and build a new library here.”
Mangan, a car buff, used an automobile analogy to demonstrate his option.
If someone had $150,000 and wanted an SUV, he’d suggest a Mercedes. “If somebody has $15,000, that’s not an appropriate conversation. I think you might be into a used Subaru,” he said. “This is a Subaru budget. This is leave everything here. Just paint, move all the stacks. Don’t even buy new stacks. Move them into the back. Do the best you can. And later on, when you get more money and more grants, you can do that.”
Fisher said she is not convinced building a new structure while the library is operating is a viable option. She also expressed concern money would be wasted if a wall on the addition would have to be later torn down to attach it to another new building.
Mangan said the standalone addition can be designed with that in mind so that the bulk of one external wall is not load-bearing and can be taken down and attached to another building later in the process.
Trustee Davis Lewis was concerned the Mangan’s plan doesn’t immediately address the air quality concerns in the existing library. “I think, one of the biggest goals for me is improving the air quality in this building, because I just know too many people with allergies and just sensitivities that won’t come into this library. And my wife is one of them,” Lewis said.
“She doesn’t want to come here, doesn’t want to bring my kids here because of the air quality. And I think that should be one of our priorities.”