Woodstock Library trustees have now discussed building anew and moving next to the Mescal Hornbeck Community Center as part of an expansion, an idea most board members agree has its share of problems but is worth exploring. The site is among possible locations including an area between the lower Comeau parking lot and the Woodstock Historical Society and locations in Bearsville.
The library’s Master Plan consultants, ADG Cohn, has advised trustees not to consider the lower Comeau site, but plans for a new building can be transferred to other locations.
Library Director Jessica Kerr and Building Committee Chair Jill Fisher met with Supervisor Bill McKenna to discuss the Community Center site.
“Basically, he didn’t throw us out for bringing the idea up. He was intrigued,” Kerr said at the Library Board’s April 20 meeting.
“There does appear to be some flexibility in that we could do something there,” Fisher said. “Bill drew me a little box right to the north of the community center, saying oh, maybe here.” Fisher acknowledged there are issues that need further exploring, such as specific location in order to work around utilities and equipment.
“A couple things that are appealing about this site is there could be synergy with the Community Center and also with the Youth Center,” board President Dorothea Marcus said. “And it would be possible that the library might be able to use some of the smaller rooms in the Community Center like where they have art classes and some other stuff.”
By utilizing meeting space in the Community Center, the library building may not need as large a footprint, Marcus said, adding she was excited about the possibility of working with the town.
“I think historically a lot of people see the library as kind of isolated with its board, kind of doing their own thing,” she said. Andy Lee Field could be used for the Library Fair and additional parking is available across from the Colony in Mountain View parking lot, she noted. The library can be fully operational during construction and once the new building is completed, the old library can be sold, she noted.
Marcus said she had discussions with town Assessor Marc Plate, who estimates the library’s 0.66 acres could be worth $1.2 million.
The library lawn, a separate one-third acre lot, is zoned hamlet commercial, as is the former Woodstock Laundromat, which is about 0.2 acres. The lot containing the library and book barn is zoned hamlet residential. Uses could include a restaurant, retail space, health services or a bed-and-breakfast. The lots could fetch the town up to $26,000 a year if returned to the tax rolls, Marcus said.
Alternatively, the town could take over the buildings for another use, like space for the Historical Society, she said.
An intriguing idea
McKenna confirmed he is intrigued by the idea, but much more discussion needs to happen before anything moves forward. “I’m willing to have a conversation,” McKenna said, adding there are definitely “potential upsides” given Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s push to have municipalities share services. The town and library could share the cost of upgrading and maintaining the parking lot, for example. The library is interested in getting more television exposure and could take advantage of the public access studio, he noted.
A move would put the current library back on the tax rolls, or if public sentiment leaned toward saving the buildings, protective covenants could be included, he said.
“There’s a lot of things to look at,” McKenna said.
Community center site has issues
“My first reaction when I heard about the space on Rock City Road was…Traffic!,” Trustee Barry Miller said. “We don’t want a traffic light at the corner of 212 and Rock City Road. I don’t think the footprint there would be large enough anyway to do it right.”
Trustee David Lewis said he wants to hear more about the idea, a sentiment shared by most trustees since they only received information the day of the meeting.
Trustee Barry Samuels joked he’d only be for the move if the lawn could come with it.
What’s wrong with renovation?
But some don’t understand the push to build anew.
“Why does the library board fear renovation? This is a mystery to me,” said Hera, who sits on the Commission for Civic Design. She noted the town’s history of saving old buildings in favor of replacement, including the Town Hall and Community Center.
“It’s mystifying to me and I’m sure it’s going to be mystifying to the public and they may not approve,” Hera said. “I hope all you people on the board don’t stay on the path of building a new building and creating urban sprawl in our tiny town.”
She said squeezing a building in next to the Community Center will look “horrible,” there isn’t enough parking and patrons can’t walk there as easily as they walk to Library Lane. She also noted the lot across from the Colony is further out then they might realize.
“What you’re seeing here is you’re not seeing the forest. You’re only seeing one tree, a library,” Hera said. “If we ever sold this property and that lawn was used commercially, do you know what kind of horror show that would be? It would be terrible.”
Former library trustee John Ludwig questioned the economics. “The cost numbers from ADG Cohn actually show that renovation as roughly half the cost of building new,” he said. “So I’m wondering do you have some basis for making that statement that building new is more cost-effective?”
Kerr countered that a renovation-only plan doesn’t meet the needs of the library, while Marcus explained new building spreads out the cost and includes efficiencies.
“I’m the one who made the statement and it was kind of a summary of the fact that, first of all, you can bond new construction for 30 years, rather than 10 years, which reduces the cost to the taxpayer,” Marcus said. “You get much more energy-efficient systems built from the ground up. The contingency cost is less because the costs are much more predictable with new construction than with renovation.”
More input needed
Sam Magarelli implored trustees to seek more input than from the same people who show up to every meeting. “One of the things I heard at the last meeting…was there was a strong sense that you haven’t heard back from the community yet,” Magarelli said.
“The library needs sort of advice and consent. The advice part is the feedback and direction from the community. The consent would be when you put the proposal up and they approve it or not.” Magarelli said the board needs to hear from at least 1000 people to get a real sense of what the community wants. “If you reach out and really make a considerable effort to get out there and get that feedback, that would be best. Then you’d really hear, instead of trying to read the tea leaves about why it’s so silent.”
Hope Gamble, a new Woodstock resident, said feedback and public participation is key, something she learned when working on a $400 million arena project in Newark, N.J.
“My suggestion, just from what I’ve heard, is to really, truly listen to what everyone has to say. Because, when you build a new building or you renovate, or you move, whether it’s 10 years or 30 years, it’s a part of a community,” Gamble said. “I’d have public hearings with senior citizens, and then I’d have public hearings with just high school kids, and public hearings with children,” she said. “I mean, this is a library. Kids will have crazy ideas, but they’re going to have fun ideas, ideas on what you can do with parents…”
Gamble suggested having architects enter a design competition and getting the public to vote on their favorite entries, an idea architect Joe Hurwitz favors.
“Now you can really rally the community,” Hurwitz said.
Gamble has volunteered to help trustees with outreach and other aspects of the expansion.
Same issues every time
“This is my third expansion/renovation project that I’ve sat through. The questions are always the same. They were the same in 2007 as they are now, 10 years ago,” Miller said. He noted the same 50 people show up at every presentation of proposals, but “you’re not going to get any variance” in the opinions if more people are asked. “You’re going to hear the same things over and over.”
Trustee Jesse Jones hopes above all, the library’s tradition of service continues.
“More important than any building we might contemplate and anything we might do, I want to preserve the tradition that we already have, to make sure that this excellent library remains excellent,” Jones said.