Woodstock Library Trustees approved a $584,000 contract with Dobbs Ferry Architect Stephen Tilly, but not before hearing just over an hour of public comment about the choice to build a new library rather than renovate the existing one. The turnout was larger than that of any trustee meeting in several years, with seating in the reading room filled and an overflow crowd standing all the way in the adjoining children’s room.
Library board President Dorothea Marcus opened the public comment period by warning that personal attacks on anyone in the room including trustees and library staff or reviling people by name will not be tolerated.
Former trustee John Ludwig responded by reminding trustees they were sworn to uphold the Constitution. He handed pocket copies of the U.S. Constitution to trustees, pointing out the First Amendment, and also shared them with the audience.
In all, 10 spoke in favor of a new building while 15 were against.
“I decided there were too many deficiencies with the this building,” said Weston Blelock, who was initially for a renovation…This is sort of a Rube Goldberg thing put together. I’ve come down in favor of supporting the board.”
Linda Lover said the community needs to think about the children. “The kids really need a better library, a newer library,” she said. “Let’s put aside our differences and do something for the kids.”
That sentiment was shared by artist Claire Lambe, who added we’re leaving children with “enough crap already.” Lambe called the library a “hodgepodge of add-ons” intended over the years to kick the idea of a new building down the road for a future generation to tackle.
Jeff Collins said it’s time to respect the wishes of the voters, who defeated a referendum to dissolve the library district and passed this year’s operational budget. “We had a vote. The vote was very clear what was meant, which was to trust them (the trustees) to make a decision.” Collins was heckled by some in the audience who said the referendum vote was confusing and by others who said the district governance and building were separate matters. Collins admonished people for interrupting and encouraged then to sign up to speak if they had a different viewpoint.
Architect Marty Nystrom, who is on the Building Committee, laid out the arguments for a new building by asking how many have researched the myriad issues with the current structures outlined in the Building Conditions Survey of 2016. “In order to do anything so it’s saved, you’d have to tear it down to its skeleton,” he said.
Tim Moore, who was on the Facilities Task Force with Nystrom, said it’s time to move on from the renovation debate. “Last November, two-thirds of voters said they trust to the board to do what’s best for the library,” Moore said. “It will be the best investment this town has made for decades. The debate over renovation is over.”
Moore said the matter has been litigated and the board does not need self-appointed watchdogs, referring to Ludwig.
Building can be renovated, others say
“You can have that 12,000-square-foot library with all the bells and whistles” without a completely new building, builder Bob Lavaggi said. His idea is to save the front 4,000 square feet, tear down the back and replace it with a new 8,000-square-foot section. He said his plan saves the part of the library that is so near and dear for many in the community and that foundation and water issues in the basement can be fixed inexpensively.
“Why can’t there be a creative compromise,” asked Julie Szabo, a vocal critic of a new building. She called for a more conservative construction budget and more inclusiveness in the process.
Gay Leonhardt questioned the board’s decision to sign a contract when it only has money for the first phase, a schematic design. She also questioned the funding strategy of fundraising and floating a bond for the balance, which is not the advice of Mid-Hudson Library System Executive Director Rebekkah Smith Aldrich. “You either fundraise or float a bond but you don’t do both,” Leonhardt said. She warned the board it is going to “step into another big puddle.”
Robin Cantine, a builder, said he is in the library frequently and believes it can be renovated with a “big, nice addition in the back.” He said the Tilly proposal “just doesn’t look like Woodstock.”
Some, like Abbey Mitchell, complained the taxes are bringing many to the breaking point already. “I think this library will bankrupt the town and that is not acceptable,” she said. “If you want to do this, you have to explain how this is not going to bankrupt the town.”
Board approves architect contract
Trustees voted 9-1 to enter an agreement with Tilly for architectural services. Trustee Jesse Jones voted against it, citing a lack of knowledge about the contract. Trustee Tammy Katzowitz was absent.
The cost of services from start to finish is $584,000 but either the board or the firm can walk away at any time with seven days notice. The library’s financial liability is limited to the fees for work done up to the point of separation.
In approving the contract, the board only approved paying Tilly a $10,000 deposit. It intends to pay an additional $70,080 for the schematic design phase which entails more detailed plans and cost estimates.
Tilly’s firm is contractually capped at a $4.4 million construction cost, which includes a “turn-key” building, but not furniture or equipment.
Built into the contract are places to pause for fundraising. Tilly must receive written permission before moving onto each phase of the project.
The board has passed fundraising responsibilities onto the Friends of the Library, with the goal of reviewing progress by mid-2020 to determine how much must be obtained through a bond.
The board expects a bond vote, if necessary, at the November 2020 election.
In defense of new construction
“This is an investment both in the library and its ongoing services and the community at large,” Building Committee Chair Jill Fisher said in defense of signing the Tilly contract.
She said that research shows renovating would cost “just as much, possibly more than building new.”
Added Fisher, “The board has exercised due diligence over the past three years to make sure it is making a sound, fiscally responsible decision that will provide a long-term solution to the need for an improved Woodstock Library.”