Woodstock Library trustees postponed signing a proposed $585,000 contract with architect Stephen Tilly of Dobbs Ferry as they begin planning a fundraising campaign. The board also heard a mixture of public comments ranging from calls to step back, urging more transparency and encouragement to start the building project.
“We want you to know that contract negotiations are still underway and no vote on a contract [with the architect] will be taken tonight,” board President Dorothea Marcus said in a prepared statement at the beginning of the March 21 meeting. “The distribution of an early draft by community members was premature. Once we have final contract language negotiated, it will be posted on the library website and notice will be provided to the Woodstock Times so the community has a chance to review it and comment on it prior to its adoption.”
She also mentioned that a community member had urged a trustee to resign before the contract is signed so that person could not be held liable for the full amount of the contract if the money can’t be raised. “We’ve just been advised by our attorney that is not true at all. Trustees will not be held personally liable,” Marcus said.
At least one person among those attending, Bob Lavaggi, thought the project would be further along by now. “I was waiting to see a bond for $5 million. And then (Trustee) Kevin (Kraft) told me it’s not a done deal yet. We still need to float the bond,” Lavaggi said. “I got to thinking that you’re not floating the bond because you’re not confident you can get $5 million. Right now you need assets. Your main assets are the residents of Woodstock who step up and own the bond you are going to float. You need to be confident before you go to them that they’re going to give you the funds.”
He suggested making use of the existing building and renovating it for $1.2 million.
“The water in the cellar can be remedied without a lot of money,” Lavaggi said. “The bluestone foundation around the building is sound and then bones of the building are sound.”
With emotions still running high among some people, Leslie Gerber, a former Library trustee and a proponent of new construction, told Lavaggi he should be ashamed. Lavaggi lashed out, saying he put his heart into his comments and should not be talked to that way.
Trustees intervened and Kraft suggested everyone take a moment to regroup. “We really need to demand a level of respect amongst our community members here. And if we cannot maintain that, I cannot, will not continue this meeting,” he said.
By the end of the meeting, Lavaggi and Gerber had reconciled their differences and were engaged in conversation.
Toni Weidenbacher called the referendum to dissolve the library brought by opponents of how the project is being handled a “farce” because of its confusing nature. “It should have been done in a way people knew what they were voting for,” she said. “If we’re going to work as a team, we need to be transparent.” She also implored trustees to keep what the library already has and build on it instead of starting from scratch.
But Rose Jambrone said she supports new construction and doesn’t understand the criticism of the board’s practices. “I’m very distressed by the implications the board is sneaky or manipulative,” she said.
Julie Szabo, who voted “yes” on the referendum urged the board to create a process that is more inclusive. “We’re living in a very non-inclusive time,” she said. Szabo added a capital campaign will not work unless the board includes a clear vision on where the funds will be spent.
Sam Magarelli, one of the organizers of the referendum movement that sought to dissolve the library district, said a majority of the people want a better library, but the majority of the people aren’t behind the board’s direction. “It would be unethical to proceed with minority support,” he said.
Tim Moore urged the public to have faith in the board, who are “trying their best to be as transparent as they can.”
But former board member John Ludwig, a co-organizer of the referendum effort, listed several costs generally not included in the project cost, such as architect fees, paying a construction manager agent, financing, attorney fees, demolition and disposal, running a temporary library during construction, furnishings, telecommunication equipment, security systems, landscaping and parking. He said the board should be up-front with the public about these costs.
The trustees gave their blessing to a separate fundraising committee to be overseen by Friends of the Library, which, they believe, already has development expertise. Whoever is chosen will concentrate efforts on several options to come up with the money for a new library.
One option is to raise money for ancillary costs, such as those mentioned by Ludwig, which will put the library in the position to have some money up front for matching grants. The rest would come from borrowed funds, a bond, that would need the approval of district voters.
Another option is to raise the entire amount, which is a much more lengthy process and involves possibly hiring a professional fundraiser.
Another third option is a hybrid, or fundraising for part of the total cost and bonding for the rest.
Regardless of the path chosen, schematic designs will be necessary as those allow for more accurate cost estimating and gives donors a better idea of the project instead of general concepts. The board has announced is has enough money for the schematic designs.
The board voted to transfer $100,000 remaining from personnel accounts due to staff departures into the capital account to assist with expenses.