Amid mixed reaction to options presented in a draft Master Plan report, Building Committee Chair Jill Fisher is asking trustees to support building a new library.
The draft report, presented by library planners ADG Cohn, outlines options for renovation with an addition and building a brand new library. Trustees must now decide which is the best option to present to voters.
“We’re the second opinion,” said Library Planner Alex Cohen of ADG Cohn at a May 24 Presentation in the Mescal Hornbeck Community Center. “We’re validating previous work done by a lot of smart people.”
Architect Harvey Cohn noted that, on a square-foot basis, a renovation plus addition is about the same cost as a brand new building. For $4.1 million, the library would get about 85 percent of the 15,000 square feet, the amount of space considered ideal. For $5.8 million, a new building would provide all of the 15,000 square feet.
Fisher passed out a resolution at the end of the meeting calling for a new library building, citing “significant community support for replacing the present library building with an up-to-date, clean and comfortable facility.”
Fisher said the cost to taxpayers would be a lot lower with a 30-year bond for a new building compared to a 10-year bond for renovation. She asked the board to consider it for a June vote.
President Dorothea Marcus, who has shifted her support between renovation and a new building as new facts are gathered, believes decision time has come.
“I think we’ve been getting input ad infinitum and I really feel we have enough information,” she said. “We’re the ones in charge of looking out for the welfare of the library and I think the time has come to make a decision.”
Marcus said the architects can provide two or three schematic designs and the public can help choose the best one.
The library’s 36 roofs
While some don’t want to see the old building disappear, ADG cautions there are several unknowns when renovating old structures and costs could spiral.
“Things like foundation work, structural work. A lot of that stuff can’t really be determined until the walls are opened up and things taken apart,” Cohn said. Other items not included in the $1.2 million renovation-plus-addition option are new windows and replacing the roof surfaces, which Cohen estimates still have about 10-15 years of useful life.
Former Facilities Task Force member Martin Nystrom told the board he doesn’t think it is financially advisable to commit to a renovation without a thorough environmental and structural review. He further noted maintenance issues associated with the many different structures added over the years to what once served as a residence. Nystrom, holding an overhead view of the library, pointed to 36 different roof surfaces.
Some members of the public pointed to a lack of input from the public at-large instead of the same people who attend meetings. Some have questioned the $5.75 million price tag.
Gay Leonhardt favors a new building, but said she feels a “real lack of hearing from what I would call the real public.”
Leonhardt said she sat at the Willow and Woodstock post offices and surveyed patrons, receiving a largely negative response to a $5.75 million cost for a new library.
But Friends of the Library member Eliza Kunkel said asking people what they think about a $5.7 million library was essentially a push poll, noting taxpayers aren’t going to be asked to bear the entire burden. Fundraising and grants will be factors in obtaining funds, she said.
“You can tear most of the building down and I don’t care,” said Councilman Richard Heppner, who is also the town historian. Heppner acknowledged the library is in need of improvement, but care needs to be taken to keep its character.
“When you take away a building like the library, you take away part of what this town’s about. Realize that,” Heppner said.
Trustees will mull over a draft resolution from Fisher calling for support of a new building with a possible vote at the June 15 meeting.
“Why destroy history?” asked Hera. “We have a beautiful little building. It may not be the Taj Mahal or a Carnegie library but people love it, and as we know, from previous efforts and bonding, you’re not going to get people to vote for $5.75 million.”
She noted other places like the Community Center, firehouses and churches have activity space the library says it needs.
“So let’s treasure what we have, build a decent, modern addition that meets all the needs that everybody wants and renovate the existing library.”
Studying other libraries
Fisher presented case studies of library renovations in communities of similar size, prompted questions about the disparity in cost between those and Woodstock’s proposals. Many ranged between $2 and $3.5 million. Cohn noted other projects provided lower square footage and Fisher noted some projects were done during the economic collapse of 2008, allowing for lower bids.
Board remains mixed on renovation vs. replacement
Newly appointed Trustee Caroline Jerome favors new construction, pointing to the pitfalls and hidden costs of renovating her own home.
“I have spent the past 10 years paying dearly for the home I love,” said Jerome, who was appointed to fill the seat left vacant by Rebecca Daniels, who resigned earlier this year for health reasons.
“My quandary is between what I really care for in the Woodstock library. And that the staff is what makes it exceptional. We must plan a building that serves them so they can serve the people,” Trustee Barry Samuels said. “The other people I care about are the taxpayers. I do not want to burden them with some really high bond issue that just keeps coming every other year.”
“Do we know what the dream is? Are we in agreement on what that dream is?,” asked Trustee Jesse Jones. “If so, I haven’t heard it.” Jones said the board needs to work on strategy for the next steps, no matter what option is chosen.
“There’s a lot of support for renovation and I’m inclined to feel that way as well,” said Trustee Elaine Hammond.
Trustee Liz Rosen said she is hesitant to choose renovation without a complete engineering and environmental hazard report.
“We don’t know the real cost of a renovation and that scares me a bit,” she said.
Building new, in the long run, “would be the best thing to do,” said Trustee Barry Miller, because once a renovation is started there are too many unknowns.
“I don’t think anybody on this board is prepared to ask the taxpayers for $5.8 million,” said Trustee Selma Kaplan. “Whatever we do, whether we go for new construction or renovation we know we have a lot of homework to do. We have grants to write. We have individuals, major gifts to seek.”
Kaplan and Trustee David Lewis both work in old buildings not designed for their current use and are cautious about going with a renovation.
“That’s the crux of the matter. The library’s current building was never meant to be a library. It was adapted to become a library,” said Lewis. “I don’t think renovating it makes much sense.”
The board meets next on June 15 at 7 p.m. in the library.