Meeting seeks alternatives to Woodstock Library teardown

John Ludwig speaks to audience about alternatives to replacing the current library. (Photo by Dion Ogust)

About 60 people came to Woodstock Town Hall on Monday, May 20 to learn about alternatives to a planned new 12,000-square-foot library designed by Dobbs Ferry Architect Stephen Tilly.

Former library trustee John Ludwig, a highly vocal opponent of the current library board’s plans, organized the meeting, and told those attending that the presentation was intended to show there are ways to save the current structure and still build additional space.

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He accused the current board of failing to explore expansion and renovation options.

The meeting had no participation from library staff or board, save for trustee Jesse Jones, though they were invited.

After introducing himself, Ludwig kicked things off with a recording of architect Harvey Cohn, who in his presentation of the Facilities Master Plan on November 19, 2016, said the current building could be renovated for $765,000.

“If we were to take the existing…5,200 square feet of the existing building, renovate it to all the action items that we listed, all the more difficult items that we listed, just up to par in every possible way, relocating mechanical equipment to abandon the cellar, reworking really all the bookshelves, maybe creating new to create the ADA access throughout, everything you could possibly do to bring this building up to par, we come up with a number of $765,000,” Cohn said. The number did not include a new roof and windows and was limited to the first floor. Cohn revised the number to $900,000 by June 2017.

Architectural Engineer Joe Mangan, who served on the Facilities Task Force that recommended updating the Master Plan, reintroduced his plan for a rear addition he presented to the board several years ago when an annex on the property of the former Library Laundromat was under consideration. The board proposed the annex because it didn’t feel confident it could get a bond passed for a full renovation and expansion.

Mangan said his proposal of a pre-engineered building that could be similar to local architecture would be more cost-effective at about $1.2 million. He said all the HVAC equipment could be moved to the addition so the flood-prone basement could be closed and sealed. Book stacks could be moved to the addition to take the strain off the existing structure that was never intended to carry such a heavy load, he said. The freestanding addition with a connecting hallway could be used to move everything out of the existing library so it can be renovated when the library secured more funding. His suggestion was ultimately rejected.

After awhile, Mangan stopped offering suggestions.

Curry Rinzler’s proposed renovation and add on design.

Board ignoring alternatives?

“I felt when I spoke to the board, they weren’t listening,” Mangan said.

Library Building Committee member Marty Nystrom attacked Mangan’s proposal, asking how he planned to handle zoning issues since the addition infringes on existing property setbacks. He also questioned plans for handling parking.

Mangan said it was a concept and told Nystrom his line of questioning was offensive.

Ludwig said the point was to start a conversation, something he says the board hasn’t done.

Architect Bob Lavaggi made a case for his solution, saving most of the existing library and constructing a 8,000-square foot addition for about $3.2 million.

The existing front entrance could be converted into children’s section that opens onto the lawn, while the main entrance can be moved to Library Lane. Lavaggi has offered his proposal to the board.

Again, Nystrom began to pick out deficiencies with Lavaggi’s proposal, prompting Ludwig to again remind him the point was to start a conversation.

The final presentation came from Woodstock architect Curry Rinzler who said he can accomplish the library’s needs by renovating 7205 square feet of existing space and building a 4288-square-foot addition. He estimated $1.4 million to upgrade the existing structures and $1.7 million for the addition.

A new dormer on the front affords better views of the lawn. On the Library Lane side, large sliding doors can provide access to book sales with space above it for meetings or classes.

“It’s both a new building and a renovation. Therefore, everyone should be happy,” Rinzler quipped.

Architect John Wasylyk, who designed the Phoencia Library renovation after a devastating fire, explained building new and making it look old doesn’t work.

“You cannot take the old building down, put up a new one and expect it to not have the charm of the (Woodstock) Post Office,” he said to laughter.

A show of hands

Once everyone made their presentations, Lavaggi asked who wants a teardown of the old library.

Nystrom’s was the only raised hand.

On Lavaggi’s invitation, Nystrom came up and attempted to explain, soon criticizing the presentations. He called Rinzler’s proposal “whimsical and nice” but said a building cannot be studies without a floor plan, which it lacked. He read a prepared statement comparing new construction with renovation, claiming renovation is more expensive than new construction because of unknown issues. “We will be at the mercy of the contractor” as new issues are uncovered and change orders submitted, he said.

Nystrom also said occupancy during construction “would not be wise or even practical.”

Ludwig, seeing that Nystrom’s comments totaled several pages, asked him what his point was. Lavaggi challenged Nystrom’s assertions that renovation is more expensive, saying he has decades of renovation experienced.

Some in the audience criticized Nystrom for picking apart the proposals of experts who had offered their services free of charge.

Much back-and-forth ensued and Jesse Jones, the only trustee at the meeting, expressed frustration. “You have absolutely dominated this meeting and this was intended to be a discussion…that is a speech,” Jones said.

Responding to criticism that the public hasn’t had much input, Nystrom said 60 percent of homeowners are from out of town.

“What does that have to do with tearing the building down,” Ludwig asked.

Dolores Lynch, who restored a 1790 home that is on the National Register of Historic Places, challenged the notion old buildings can’t be saved.

“We’re a throw-away society,” she said.

All trustees and staff invited

Ludwig said he invited all trustees and staff and was disappointed Jones was the only trustee in attendance.

Board President Dorothea Marcus said invitations were sent only after Director Jessica Kerr raised concerns the meeting was planned without library input.

In a response to a challenge by Lavaggi to have all trustees come and speak their mind, Marcus quoted the trustee handbook section on collective authority.

“Debate, discussion and even disagreement over an issue are an important part of policy development and the decision making process. However, every trustee has an ethical obligation to publicly support an adopted board decision,” it states.

“The First Amendment protects the rights of a trustee who disagrees so strongly with a board decision that he or she must speak out publicly against it. However, in such instances the individual must make it clear to all concerned that they do not represent the library and, indeed, may wish to seriously consider resigning from the board if such action interferes with their ability to effectively fulfill their responsibilities as a trustee.”

Marcus denies her intent was to demand anyone’s resignation and said nobody has been asked to do so.

“They’re confusing people,” she said of Ludwig’s meeting. “The decision has been made.”

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