While it was no landslide, Woodstock Library Board President Dorothea Marcus feels the October 3 trustee election was a vote of confidence for a new library building. After a revised tally, former board member Leslie Gerber received the most votes, 502, followed by Marcus, 493 and incumbent Howard Kagan, 484. All favor tearing down the current library building and constructing a new one.
A slate of three — Jim Dougherty, Julie Szabo and incumbent Jesse Jones — ran a campaign opposing new construction and favoring a remodel and addition. Dougherty received 435 votes, followed by Szabo, 430 and Jones, 429.
Voters also approved the 2020 budget proposal by an overwhelming margin, 660-260. The spending plan calls for no tax increase over the current levy of $585,544 and a 0.48 increase, or $3102.12, in spending totaling $644,846.12. Transfers from prior year surpluses and savings by changing contractors for fuel and other services allowed for the tax levy to be without increase.
Marcus said the library will now be “going into high gear” with fundraising.
“We have everyone still very focused on the library. It gives us the confidence to move ahead,” Marcus said, noting it should be easier to raise money now that, come January, the board will be unanimously in favor of the decision to go forward with a new building.
Some, including Marcus and Trustee Selma Kaplan were initially in favor of a renovation and addition, but soon decided a new building was most cost-effective. Jones became the lone trustee out of 11 that remained opposed to a new building. Last year, he worked with a group supporting a referendum to dissolve the library district.
“The referendum (defeat) was vote of confidence in the board. This was a vote that was about this building,” Marcus said of the trustee election. “We’re very pleased it was a large turnout. It was a horrible day.” In spite of the cold and rain, it may have been the largest turnout in quite some time. Election workers counted 941 ballots, including 866 that voted in person and 75 absentees. Many library elections have been decided by half that number.
Marcus and her slate won 53 percent of the vote to the opposing slate’s 47 percent. It’s not a landslide, nor is it a mandate, and she’s well aware. Still, the result, she feels, gives the board the support to move ahead with plans.
“Nobody is gloating but we feel it is a vote of confidence,” she said. “The town is still really divided over this issue. You see this big split in the community…That’s why we had to bite the bullet and make a decision.”
Marcus said she empathizes with people who are attached to the current library and emphasized it wasn’t an easy decision but was the most prudent.
Trustees decided in January 2018 that building new was more cost-effective than a renovation and addition, prompting a group led by former trustee John Ludwig to get a referendum on the ballot to dissolve the district. That referendum was defeated 2-1, but opponents to a new building have aired their grievances at board meetings and voiced objection to a $584,000 contract with architect Stephen Tilly, who was chosen following a design competition. Three finalists were chosen out of those who responded to a request for proposals and were each given a $5000 honorarium to come up with a model and general plan presented at a meeting in August 2018. Tilly was declared the winner in November 2018 following three months of soliciting comments on the three plans.
Tally sheet overlooked, end result unchanged
When Election Chairman Stan Nitzky reviewed materials for certification of the results, he discovered a tally sheet that was not counted. That changed the numbers from what was reported late Thursday, but didn’t change the result.
Marcus attributed the mistake to fatigue, having come after a 12-hour workday for the election inspectors. Hand-counting more than 900 ballots was a large task and they weren’t finished until nearly midnight.
The library stopped using machines for its elections some time ago in favor of hand-counted paper ballots due to soaring rental costs.
Town Clerk Jackie Earley certified the revised tallies on October 7.
Tilly contract paused, construction manager agent working to cut costs
Building Committee Chair Jill Fisher confirmed the contract the architect Tilly is paused until the library can raise enough money for the next phase, which is design development. Tilly recently completed the schematic design phase and came up with a $6.9 million cost estimate. Trustees have promised a $4.4 million building budget, so that’s where Construction Manager Agent JC Alten comes into play.
While the library doesn’t have the money to continue paying Tilly yet, it has enough to pay Alten, who is on a pay-as-you-go basis at about $6250 per month.
He was initially paid $2000 for a cursory review, in which he found significant savings if the building is trimmed from the 13,400 square foot Tilly presented to 12,000 square feet. Other changes, such as scaling back the open-beam design and re-engineering the geothermal heating system, can be made that will not affect programming planned for the building, he found.
At an October 7 Building Committee meeting, Alten said he is confident he can get the building to within the $4.4 million budget.
“We’ve had these constant challenges. Most recently the alternative candidates kind of slowed us down. We knew we needed to get a board that supports us going ahead,” Fisher said.