Voters will have a clear choice among the six candidates vying for three seats on the Woodstock Library Board of Trustees in the noon-9 p.m. Thursday, October 3 election, with voting at the Library, 5 Library Lane.
Opponents of the plan to construct of a new 12,000-square-foot building that could cost $5 million or more on the site of the current building have formed a slate of three candidates, squaring off with three candidates solidly in support of the proposal for a new building.
Former trustee Leslie Gerber and incumbent trustees Dorothea Marcus and Howard Kagan are in favor of the project while Jim Dougherty, Julie Szabo and incumbent trustee Jesse Jones are against the new construction.
Dougherty, Jones and Szabo are in favor of putting the new building up for a referendum so the voters can decide. They say they would honor the results if the voters approve of new construction. Candidates for the new building argue the referendum will come in the form of a 2020 bond vote seeking to borrow the funds for construction.
Jim Dougherty, a Woodstock resident since 1997, retired from banking 10 years ago and started his own property preservation and asset management company. He volunteers for the Woodstock Fire Department and serves on the town Ethics Board and Commission for Civic Design.
Dougherty said the library board has failed to be responsible to the taxpayers by not keeping the building maintained. Environmental hazards such as mold, should have been addressed, he said.
In planning for the library’s needs, many of the area architects were never consulted, he said.
Dougherty said he can put his background in property management to good use to make sure the building is cared for and expansion can be planned properly.
“You have to have a vision for what the library should be 5, 10, 15 years from now,” not just build something that lasts 100 years. It should adapt to changing needs.
Dougherty believes the current building can be modified and improved instead of building a new one.
Despite his opposition to new construction, Dougherty said the board should be respectful of the public’s wishes and he would go along with the consensus.
“The board should represent the will of the taxpayers,” he said.
Leslie Gerber, an accomplished poet and music critic, was on the library board when the special district was formed in 1989. He was one of the original on-air personalities on WDST radio, hosting classical music programming until 1991.
Gerber, a Brooklyn College graduate, joined the Phoenicia Library board in 1970 when he moved to the area, then the Woodstock Library board in the 1980s. There was a big push to become a district because the library, up to that point, had no guaranteed funding source.
“If it rained on the Library Fair there was no book budget,” he said. “We were begging for donations which is no way to run a library.”
Gerber is for new library construction and believes a new building can last for the next 100 years. A renovation, he said, can maybe yield another 20 or 30 years out of the current building. “There are things the library should do and can’t do because of space. We do it in very cramped quarters,” he said.
Gerber brings with him experience of being on library boards and said he has the time to spend on improving the library and attending meetings.
“I’m willing to invest time in it with the hope I can see a new building in my lifetime,” Gerber said.
Jesse Jones has been a trustee for 10 years. After working in the banking industry, he formed his own technology consulting company.
“The charm of Woodstock is the community. I believe the library could be a catalyst for community,” he said. While the library board slogan is Build a Better Library, “I’m in it for building a better Woodstock,” Jones said.
Jones said a lot of charm is in the old buildings in town. He expressed concern about building something that may be large, imposing and out-of-character with the rest of town. And he expressed frustration that the goal at board meetings seems to be to win the argument, not to come to the best decision.
Jones said he can bring to the board a willingness to seek answers and come back with his findings. Jones said he can work in a collaborative way.
“I love to get things done as a team,” he said.
Jones survived an attempt to remove him from the board because of his views on the ill-fated annex to be built on the former Library Laundromat property. Former Trustee Geoffrey Hanowitz called for Jones’ impeachment in August 2014 for violating a requirement that trustees must publicly stand behind a board decision. Two weeks later, Jones won re-election easily, garnering more votes than any other candidate.
Howard Kagan was recently appointed to the board to replace Tamara Katzowitz, who had to resign to take the position of Acting Library Director. He is running for his first elected term.
Kagan, a Queens native, retired as partner of a Chicago architecture firm. He moved to Bearsville in 2016. Kagan is married with two grown children.
He became a member of the Building Committee about a year ago after neighbor and architect Marty Nystrom asked him to attend a meeting to offer his expertise.
He believes a new building is the right decision, but empathizes with those who want to preserve the library.
“I understand where people who want to renovate come from,” said Kagan, who did mostly renovations as an architect. In this case, renovation isn’t viable, he said.
“People who are emotionally attached to the library are not understanding of the needs of a library,” he said.
The library was designed as a home and added onto several times over its history. The residential construction isn’t conducive to handling book stacks, Kagan said. The floor load for a house is 40 pounds per square foot while the standard for a library is 150 pounds per square foot. As a result, a majority of the books are near the walls and the space can’t be utilized efficiently.
Kagan sees many parallels to the Oak Park Public Library in Illinois where his firm designed a new building. Officials grappled with the choice between a renovation and addition or a new building, much like Woodstock.
“We found it would be economically better to build new,” he said of Oak Park.
Dorothea Marcus is running for her second term. She was appointed in 2014 to fill a vacancy, then was elected to her first full term later that year. She has served as president for three years. Marcus, an associate real estate broker for Halter & Associates, lives in the Bearsville Flats with her son.
She served on the School Board in Riverdale and the Irvington Chamber of Commerce.
“I’m very excited about what›s happening with the library,” said Marcus. “It hasn’t been easy. There are people with strong opinions.”
She said everyone loves the library and while it is “very charming and sweet on the outside,” there are a lot of issues. “If there was a cost-effective way to keep it, we would do it,” she said. “I have a lot of empathy for people who want to preserve things. We honestly, genuinely feel this is the best use of taxpayer money. We need a building that will work well for our patrons and staff.”
Marcus said she wasn’t planning to stay on the board, but felt the need to see the building project though to the end. “I’m willing to put up with the politics. I’m a pretty calm person. I don’t take things personally,” she said.
Marcus said the current building is past its use-by date and several Hudson Valley communities have built new libraries.
Marcus said she is glad there’s a slate running against those who are for a new building.
“Every time there’s a challenge like the referendum, we do well with it.”
Julie Szabo became involved with the library building issue when, after moving to Woodstock, she became frustrated by what she sees as a lack of response to public input.
She began attending board meetings shortly after a failed referendum to dissolve the district, speaking out and trying to get trustees to listen to the concerns of those who voted for the referendum.
Szabo tried to convince the board to change the election and budget vote to the first Tuesday in November, the same date as other elections, so it is more accessible. The board cited expenses involved and moved it to the first Thursday in October as a compromise.
Szabo, the daughter of immigrants, is involved in visual and performing arts. She is a yoga teacher and is involved in the Performing Arts of Woodstock among many other activities. She is married and has several animals.
Szabo said she wants a more open dialogue and not so much conflict between those for and against a new building. “The problem with the animosity between the two sides is nothing gets done,” she said.
Szabo said her strength is in facilitating discussion and being able to pull a group together. “We need to create a library improvement plan that the town can afford, and more importantly, is willing to pay for,” she said.
Szabo is for reusing and recycling because the greenest buildings are then ones that are already built. She said she doesn’t understand why it is necessary to tear down an existing building and throw it in the trash.
Tax levy remains the same
Voters will also decide on a 2020 budget with a zero levy increase made possible by a surplus and adjustment of other expense items.
The budget is $644,846.12, an increase of $3102.12, or 0.48 percent over this year’s $641,744 spending plan, but the levy remains the same at $585,544.
The board moved $20,000 from prior year surplus to create a Personnel Benefits Fund to cover unanticipated health insurance costs and unused vacation and sick time when someone ends their employment. The creation of this fund allowed a $5000 in the 2020 budget. An additional $5000 savings came from reducing lines for items that came in under budget in prior years, switching to a heating oil co-op and increased interest earnings.
Voting takes place Thursday, October 3 in the library from noon to 9 p.m. Absentee ballots are available now at the library.