Architect Tilly’s plan is favored by the Woodstock Library board

Architect Stephen Tilly’s proposal (photo by Dion Ogust)

After nearly three months of public input and the defeat of a referendum that would have dissolved the district, Woodstock Library trustees declared Architect Stephen Tilly’s proposal the winner of the design competition for a new building. The New England grange-style building with a wrap-around porch and entrance notched into the corner “is the one we heard was preferred by a long shot,” said Building Committee Chair Jill Fisher.

The Building Committee had been reading responses left at the library and sent via email over the past several weeks, but held off announcing the results until after the referendum to dissolve and terminate the library district. The referendum was voted down, allowing the district to continue to operate. 

Dobbs Ferry-based Tilly’s design involves large structural beams that allow for an open floor plan, reducing the number of load-bearing walls and allowing layout to be changed. It will incorporate the historic 1812 ell. People seemed to like the open floor plan, the use of local resources and the re-use of trees on the property as part of the building.

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Though the proposal was for roughly 15,000 square feet, as required in the design framework, trustees have heard public requests for a scaled-back version. The building is proposed to be two stories and sit on the same footprint as the existing building.

“The community wants to see something with a smaller square footage,” Fisher said.

Trustees have set a preliminary cap at $5 million, which would cover architectural fees, demolition, site preparation, construction and finishes. It does not include furniture and special equipment, for which the library hopes to obtain grants.

Trustees will begin discussions about fees and the reduced size. At this early stage, the library will not commit to a contract.

This past summer, the library launched a design competition to narrow down responses to a request for proposals to three firms. The three finalists were each given a $5000 honorarium to present a model and a proposal to fit a design framework that would serve the programming needs for the library. Tilly and the other two finalists, Ashokan Architecture of Kingston and Argus Architecture & Preservation Design of Troy, presented their proposals at a public meeting in August. After the August meeting, the models were available for viewing in the library, where people could write down or email their responses.

But Hera, a vocal opponent of new building plans, feels the Tilly decision is more of the same “ramrod approach of pushing through resolutions at the tail end of board meetings.” As a member of a new group called the Coalition for Creative Compromise, Hera has called for trustee Jill Fisher to step down as Building Committee chair and the board to form a Listening and Reflection Committee in which two members of the public would join one or two trustees for monthly discussions.

Fisher’s “dominance of the committee and board, and her intransigent non-listening is unworkable,” Hera said, suggesting Trustee Selma Kaplan take over as chair.

Hera suggested a design competition for a renovation with three finalists chosen.

Fisher plans to stay on as Building Committee chair. Kaplan has no interest in taking the spot. 

Communication breakdown

Julie Szabo, who voted “Yes” on the referendum and doesn’t want to see the building torn down, said there is still a problem with the translation of what transpired between planners’ reports and the decision to build new instead of renovate. That led to a sometimes tense discussion among trustees as some took turns trying to explain the turn of events.

In response to criticism that renovation wasn’t presented as a choice for public input, Fisher said it was included in a feasibility study.

Trustee Jesse Jones saw it a different way. “That wasn’t a renovation and addition. It was a feasibility study. Let’s try to be honest here,” Jones responded.

Trustee Barry Miller explained a feasibility study was done in 2007 that incorporated a new building. “That fell flat. It was decided we should engage the public more. The board said we don’t know if a renovation makes sense,” Miller said. “This is not a house. It is heavily trafficked all the time.”

President Dorothea Marcus said a series of community conversations is in the works and a pamphlet is being designed that explains what is involved in a renovation of the library. She also said a renovation isn’t feasible based on expert opinions. “Two of the architects (finalists) are preservationists. They both said it’s not a viable candidate.”

Water in the basement

Of more immediate concern is three inches of water in the existing building’s basement. It’s an ongoing problem, but now has reached a critical status, Fisher explained at the meeting. The water drains from a sump pump into the street, which is prohibited by the town and is a safety hazard. It is supposed to drain into the front lawn but there is an issue with the pipe coming from the basement.

Also, the sump pump keeps stopping, either because of a blockage or some other issue.

Fisher said some contractors have looked at the situation and it could cost $5000 to $10,000 to repair.

“We have to get it draining out to our front lawn. We need a dry well in the front lawn and a new pipe going to it,” Fisher said.

The board previously received estimates and approved work to get the basement drained and sealed, but it was never done.

“I’m a little frustrated because the board approved sealing off the basement and it never got implemented,” Fisher said. “We need to act quickly because the ground is freezing.”

Fisher will gather estimates from other contractors and report on the final cost. Some funds may be available because the library is under budget due to a vacant Library Technician position.

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