Opponents to a planned new library building are largely absent from board meetings these days, but they’re busy planning behind the scenes. The Library Alliance, a group about 20 strong, has conducted strategy sessions and plans a public information campaign soon.
Opponents waged a campaign in 2018 to dissolve the library district in anticipation that the Town Board would take control. That measure failed at the polls and attendance at library board meetings has largely dwindled since. But silence doesn’t mean they’ve disappeared.
“Nobody here is anti-library,” said Alliance member Jim Dougherty, who is also a candidate for appointment to the trustee seat vacated by Jill Fisher, who recently resigned to move to Minnesota. Dougherty came within one percent of the new board members Howard Kagan and Leslie Gerber when he ran in October.
Dougherty said a big issue is the half a million dollars being spent on architecture services that could have been put into the original building. Dougherty, who runs a building management business and represents about 30 banks and other clients, said mold remediation should be a priority in the current library. The basement, which is in reality not much more than a crawl space, is often wet. It houses the furnace and electrical panel.
For its part, the board, with the aid of Director Jessica Kerr, has explored various remediation options. It has repaired a drainage pipe that empties into the front lawn.
“The group is working to make the public well aware of the money being spent. It should be stopped until a bond is approved,” Dougherty said. “Get your answer first (through a bond vote), and if your answer is no, come up with a plan for renovation.”
Though doubtful of his chances for appointment, Dougherty said there should be a dissenting voice on the board, much like Jesse Jones was. “It shouldn’t be a rubber stamp.”
The board is expected to interview candidates and appoint a new trustee at its February 20 meeting. Jeff Collins, who ended his candidacy for state Senate, has also announced his interest.
An awareness of the money needed
Dougherty and the group wants to make sure the public knows the source of the funds being used for the project. Opponents have questioned the transfer of prior-year surpluses originally earmarked for personnel expenses into the Capital Fund. However trustees, as fiscal stewards have the prerogative as to how that money is allocated.
The group also has issues with transparency about the real cost of the project. Dougherty and Alliance member John Ludwig have noted figures do not include relocation to a temporary library, rental, furnishings, computer, telephone and security equipment.
Fisher estimated last year the furnishings and equipment could cost $800,000.
Dougherty said the board should take into account the demographics and he questions the need for a building of the proposed size. He points to the Shady Methodist Church as an example. It was open during the boom years of IBM, and since the company left, it is stuck with a large building.
The Alliance is committed to making sure the public has an awareness of the money spent and that the bond is adequate to cover expenses. Dougherty said the last thing the town or library needs is to come up short once costs are finalized.
Estimates from architect Stephen Tilly came in at $6.9 million for a 13,400-square-foot building, well above the $5 million total cost pledged by trustees. The $584,000 Tilly contract leaves $4.4 million for construction. The board has hired Construction Manager Agent JC Alten, who is confident he can keep to the $4.4 million budget by reducing the size to 12,000 square feet, fine-tuning the geothermal HVAC system and making other changes that won’t reduce the quality.
Dougherty said the Alliance wants the public to know what is being planned and make an informed decision. “If the bond passes, that is the will of the people. The Alliance would not take issue.”