A majority of Woodstockers want to renovate and add to library

Gay Leonhardt reaches a point to the Woodstock Library Board of trustees. (photo by Dion Ogust)

With a new survey showing that only 27 percent of respondents favor tearing down the Woodstock Library building and replacing it with new construction, Woodstock Library Trustees are faced with deciding how to proceed. Through mailings and active personal contact, the survey garnered 925 responses, about three times the number of previous efforts.

Results show 252 people, or 27 percent, opted for the choice to demolish the existing library and construct a new building.

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The other 73 percent of respondents split their answers among several choices, none of which included demolition of the existing structure.

The most respondents, 286, or 31 percent, opted for a renovation of the current structure with a smaller addition. Other choices followed, with 146, for a renovation with a larger addition, 101 or 11 percent for repairing current building as needed; 55 or 6 percent chose  a renovation of the current structure with no addition; 52 or 6 percent opted for a separate north side building and 33 or 3 percent for “other.”

Registered voters were separated from all respondents with similar results.

“As to renovation plus addition or new construction, opinions are still divided, confirming the library’s earlier research in conjunction with the past year’s Master Facilities Planning Process,” an analysis provided by the Library Board noted.

However some thought the pie charts in the survey analysis obfuscated the fact that 53 percent are for a renovation with a new addition to be built, and all the other choices excluded a teardown and a new building.

“[The Library analysis is] a little like saying opinions are still divided on whether fossil fuel consumption is contributing to climate change,” said former trustee John Ludwig, who helped tabulate the results. “We expect that kind of spin from our politicians, but I’d like to think our library trustees can process raw data and give it to us straight.”

Added Ludwig, “It’s now an inconvenient truth for the library trustees that the people’s choice is to renovate the library.”

Jerry Washington, while thanking the board for its efforts, called the summary statements in the analysis questionable. “People cherry pick. They pick out the set of things they want to present to sell the thing they want to have, and I think that’s what’s happened here,” he said.

Sam Magarelli, who designed the survey along with Gay Leonhardt, said the board shouldn’t ignore that 53 percent want to renovate.

“Division can have the sense that it’s equally divided, but when 53 percent of the people are choosing a renovate choice, they’re telling you something,” he said. “I know you say to renovate costs more. The majority of the respondents, they’re willing to spend the money.”

Leonhardt said she believes the majority of the information is honest and correct and it is now up to the board to use the information in their decision-making process.

Hera said she heard from many people who thought the way the survey was worded was “very prejudicial” toward new construction.

Marty Nystrom, who served on the Facilities Task Force that recommended an update to the Master Facilities Plan, said people are attached to the building and may not know what a renovation involves. “The 1812 facade is probably the most important part,” Nystrom said. “The rest of it has no historic value. So honor 1812 and forget 1968.”

On renovation, Nystrom told the board the respondents “do not have the body of information that you folks have, and they don’t have the responsibility that you folks are going to undertake with regard to this project.”

Another survey?

Town councilwoman Laura Ricci, to some jeers and gasps, suggested perhaps another survey could narrow things down and solidify support.

“As I see there are two main answers. You do have a chunk of people that would like to tear down and build new, and you also have a chunk of people that want to renovate,” Ricci said. “Of the renovation chunk of people, most of them want small. If you were willing to do a second survey with two choices…We’re either going to tear down and build new at the higher price or we’re going to renovate at the lower price…you may get a mandate.”

Iris York said the board can’t forget about people who don’t want a new building.
“About 27-28 percent want a new building. The other way of looking at that is about 70 percent do not want that. And I think that’s the number you should be focusing on,” York said.

Board split on renovation or new building

Building Committee Chair Jill Fisher quoted Education Department regulations that put the onus on the trustees for deciding how big and what kind of building is adequate to serve the library’s needs.
“Keep in mind not what the community exactly today thinks they want, and has articulated to some extent, but also what we know the future needs are going to be,” Fisher said. “In my mind that means a lot of flexibility as necessary in this space.”

Trustee Liz Rosen said she needs more information on what a renovation entails and how much the library can spend. “There’s a significant number of people who are willing to pay more per year. There’s also a significant number of people who don’t want to or can’t pay more. I think we have a responsibility to really consider that and maybe end up somewhere in the middle where we can get most of the library with the least impact to the community,” Rosen said.

“There’s a lot to chew on here. As far as parsing information…you can slice it and dice it 100 different ways, for sure,” Trustee Caroline Jerome said. “We are constantly poring over previous research that we’ve done, conversations, and the Master Facilities Plan which we’ve invested a lot in already.”

Trustee David Lewis noted the current building simply was not designed to be a library and said he needs more information on whether a renovation can address that. “Part of the reason that a lot of us have supported a new building is because this space in its current configuration does not work for library. I would like to see…could we open the space with a renovation? Is that even possible, because I think that’s something that needs to be considered.”

Director Jessica Kerr said since she started 2010, the library has moved things around several times and even closed for a week to rearrange stacks and furniture.

“Could we move things around more? Yes. Sometimes it feels like we’re just moving things in a puzzle,” she said.

“The public has to understand that we have the knowledge of how libraries work and what libraries do,” Trustee Barry Miller said. “And that’s the missing piece, is that we’re the ones that are informed about what libraries are because we go to the conferences. We talk to other libraries. We’re involved with that on an ongoing basis.”

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Trustee Selma Kaplan took exception to those comments, and said it discounts what the public has been trying to say. Kaplan said she has changed her mind based on the survey results. “I think we should renovate the library. I feel as though our survey, everything we’ve heard so far from the public shows that we would be better supported in renovating the library. We could galvanize the enthusiasm from the people and build in the back,” Kaplan said. “I was a little bit taken aback by the sense that I got from much of the public comment that the decision had been made and the board was cherry-picking factoids in order to sway an eventual decision. I personally had not been convinced one way or the other until very recently, until I saw the survey results.”

Trustee Jesse Jones remains noncommittal until more information is gathered. “In one way we’ve all been kind of saying the same thing and I like that. What we’ve all been trying to work out together seems to be the particulars.” He suggested formulating a list of what the library is going to provide and a strategy for providing it as part of the next steps.

Trustee Barry Samuels said the library now has two opposite options to explore and can take advantage of current enthusiasm to help reach a decision. “We’re at a wave of interest we could utilize right now,” Samuels said.

Trustee Elaine Hammond was always for an addition in the back and still feels that way.

“It still seems to make sense,” she said.

While acknowledging it’s all about what the public wants, Trustee Tammy Katzowitz said she has seen maintenance issues addressed over the years and thinks a renovation “is going to be a money pit.”

Fisher, pushing for new construction, noted the cost per year would be less than half that of a renovation because the library can get a 30-year bond and spread out the cost.

“If we went with a pre-engineered building the downtime would be minimal,” she noted. In pre-engineered construction, the materials are measured and cut, then shipped to the site for assembly. “I think it’s time for a decision,” she said.

President Dorothea Marcus has also changed her mind based on the survey. “I am now in the renovation/addition camp,” she said. “I want to see this succeed. We do have a mandate to renovate and expand the library.”

The board will gather estimates for an environmental review, a necessary step for renovating an old building. Such reviews have been done in the past but need to be updated. It will also get estimates for schematic sketches.

Marcus said she is amenable to a follow-up straw poll with two choices based on Ricci’s suggestions. A full survey may not be necessary as it is something that could be accomplished through an online poll. That along with possible next steps will be discussed at a special meeting December 7 at 7 p.m. at the library.