Woodstock Library comments echo ongoing debate

A public input forum on the Woodstock Library’s building options drew many familiar faces on both sides of the issue, with opponents of the Library’s plan to construct a new building apparently seeking to dominate the discussion.

Participants at the Public Be Heard session held Woodstock Town Hall on September 13 were asked to limit their comments to their suggestions and preferences for one of the three proposed designs from Ashokan Architecture of Kingston, Argus Architecture & Preservation of Troy and Stephen Tilly Architect of Dobbs Ferry. A vocal group, who would rather see a renovation and addition, said they wanted a renovation and spoke instead about the upcoming referendum to dissolve the library district.

Of all the viewpoints — a mixed bag of those for and against a new building — nothing new was raised. Trustees, as they announced in the beginning, did not respond to comments. This was a listening session, as board President Dorothea Marcus described it.

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“I’m working there every day,” said Circulation Clerk Hollie Ferrara. “I see the inadequacies of our layout.” Ferrara said Argus’ proposal, a mixture of clapboard and stone, “would fulfill the need very well.” She said Tilly’s proposal “looks like the (Woodstock) Playhouse” and thought it would be redundant since the town already has such a similar building.

Gay Leonhardt, who co-authored a recent survey in which 71 percent chose something other than a new building, offered suggestions for the old building that were peppered with a good dose of sarcasm. “You’re all missing a very big market,” she said, telling the board pieces of the old library could be sold at a premium, much like the old Yankee Stadium. Seats from the ballpark went for $2,000, she said. “The library entryway, which is so dear to many, could be auctioned off,” Leonhardt said. “You know people care about the existing building and you’re doing nothing to cash in on it.”

Hera, vocal opponent of the library building plans, accused the board of ignoring the results of the survey. “The taxpayers of Woodstock want a renovation in the rear,” she said. “I’m very disappointed in the board, particularly in the building committee chair (Jill Fisher), who is acting Trumpian.” Hera was accompanied by two people holding charts showing renovated libraries in Nyack and Katonah.

Ed Sanders also spoke for a renovation. “It’s clear if you’re a democracy, you have to accept the wishes of 70 percent of the people.”

Trustees have noted the survey was one of many forms of input they considered before voting in January for new construction. They also criticized the survey for being ambiguously worded, leading to inaccurate results.

Defending need for new building

Former Facilities Task Force member Tim Moore gave examples of three libraries that recently finished new buildings. Warwick’s $8.5 million building was voted Best Small Town Library in America, he said. Hillsdale, with a population of 7113, just built a 7500-square-foot library for $3.5 million and Gardiner built a 4800-square-foot building for $2 million to serve a community of 5717. Moore favors the Tilly proposal with the covered porch allowing people to sit and read. 

“This meeting should be taking place in the library,” said Leslie Gerber, who was a trustee when the district was created in 1989. “A library is not a building,” Gerber said. “A library is an institution.”

Gerber noted a new building could last 100 years while a renovation might last 20 years.

He said he likes the Argus proposal, though “all three would be a vast improvement.”

Dan Levy commented that the existing building is depressing. “I’ve never seen a worse library in any community I’ve lived in,” said Levy, who has chemical sensitivities and has problems staying in the building for any period of time because of mold and other air quality problems.

Friends of the Library Treasurer Erin Cadigan said all the studies done since 2007 say the library needs about 15,000 square feet and it now has about 4500 usable square feet.

She noted all the proposals save 1.5 historic walls, pointing out the 1812 ell is all that is left of the former doctor’s office and home. “The building is sick, but the library is not,” she said. “We have the third largest collection in the Hudson Valley.”

Christofora parking concerns

Vince Christofora, who owns Woodstock Hardware and land on the opposite side of the creek on Library Lane, spoke out of concern for parking. Christofora owns the parking spaces opposite the library from the Tinker Street intersection to the former Library Laundromat. He allows his spaces to be used by library patrons and for the Library Fair. “When I first mentioned parking during the annex design, I was dismissed,” he said, noting the current proposals for the new building show parking being decreased.

Christofora said he is supportive of the library and even stopped pursuing purchase of the former laundromat when he learned the library was interested. Ultimately the library purchased it.

Christofora had much more to say about the parking issue, but was cut off as speakers were told they had three minutes. A handful of people offered to yield their time so he could continue. He was given another minute or two, but was ultimately cut off again.

None of the above

Joan Schuman said the board was given a viable proposal by former Facilities Task Force member Joe Mangan to renovate and build in addition in the back for one-fifth the cost, but the board passed on it. “We’re being ignore and I really resent that,” she said.

In 2016, architect Harvey Cohen said the building could be renovated and brought up to code as much as possible for $750,000, noted John Ludwig, who organized the petition drive that led to the dissolution referendum. “You’re not listening to the people,” he said, encouraging people to vote “yes” on the referendum.

Sam Magarelli, who co-authored the survey with Leonhardt, said it’s “remarkably ironic” that both sides want to see a better library, but feels the board isn’t listening to everyone. “There’s been an effort to exclude a lot of other people who differ in their vision to improve the library.”

Magarelli said his choice is none of the above. “By restricting the way the community is responding, you’ve giving a false representation of what’s really happening.”

Project is too big

Bob Lavaggi said he liked the Tilly proposal the best, but criticized the size of the project. “This room we’re sitting in is approximately 3000 square feet,” he said, stretching his arms to point out the meeting room/courtroom in Town Hall. “The new designs want five of these.”

Former Town Supervisor Jeff Moran also said he likes the Tilly proposal, but noted “it’s a little big” and pointed out there’s less than 2 percent of buildable space in the center of town. “Where are people going to park,” he asked. 

Moran also cautioned the board not to use their status as a separate district to skirt regulations. “Make sure you follow the zoning law to the letter. Otherwise you’ll have a huge fight on your hands,” he said.

And the winner is…

Trustees discussed their options at a closed session September 17 and plan to cast their vote for an architect September 20 at 7 p.m. in the library. That meeting is open to the public.

There is one comment

  1. Suzette Green

    As a former resident of Woodstock, and life long frequenter of libraries, I feel the pain of this decision on the community. In my home town of West Palm Beach, we have experienced a demolition of an incredible Spanish Style 1920’s structure, a new library, a renovation, another demolition, and now, a new award winning structure. The Mandel Public Library has ben altering for the community, in an amazing and positive way. As in Woodstock, we have a diverse population, far reaching in age, income, race, etc., etc., etc. From experience in aging buildings that have outlived their usefulness, I support the wonderful concept of auctioning iconic architectural parts of the Woodstock Library, and creating an updated building that too, will become iconic as the use of the Library is expanded and increased. At first it will hurt – but the change will be worth it. I urge the citizen/taxpayers to carefully consider/reconsider all angles of the proposal for the library. Best wishes!!

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