Woodstock Library trustees have held off a decision on whether to place bonding for a new building on the November ballot. Meanwhile, they will carry forward with planning and fundraising.
Trustees recently engaged in a spirited discussion via videoconference about the pros and cons of asking Woodstock voters to borrow the difference between what is raised from donors and the remainder of a $4.4-million construction bill for a proposed 13,000-square-foot building.
Though a decision on bonding likely won’t come until at least June, trustees approved a motion declaring the library district as lead agency under the State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA). Neither the town government nor its planning board expressed interest in acting as lead agency, though the town must sign off on any bonding.
Gay Leonhardt, a longtime opponent of the new building plans, urged delay amid the pandemic and shutdown, noting people have asked for extensions on their water and sewer bills. “Postpone the bonding until the economy becomes more clear,” she said.
The trustees presented a variety of arguments both in favor of proceeding this year and of delaying a vote on bonding for the project.
Trustee Jeff Collins said he’s in favor of bonding this year because interest rates will be low due to the slow economy. “It’s clear we need to do something with the building,” Collins said, noting thst either renovation or new construction will cost millions.“Economically the best way to reinvigorate the economy is through public works.”
Trustee Selma Kaplan said the library must prepare for s “new normal,” and that the current building is completely unsuited for social distancing. “There is so little we can do in that space right now, and I don’t see things getting better any time soon.” Kaplan pointed out that the majority of the burden will be taken on by second homeowners, who make up the majority of the town tax base.
Trustee and building committee chair Howard Kagan said he appreciated the economics of bonding when the interest rates were low. But the uncertainty bothers him. “My only fear is if the bond is defeated, what will happen with our project?” he asked.
Trustee Liz Rosen agreed there were advantages to borrowing this year, but noted that the second homeowners don’t vote because their Woodstock home wasn’t their primary residence. The board should go ahead with planning, she advised, “but it may be wise to postpone our bonding to the next year.”
Trustee Barry Miller believes waiting to bond was the better course. “My gut feeling tells me we have to be very cautious about the future of the country,” he said. “People are hurting now, and if the economy keeps tanking it’s not going to be helpful in any way. Hopefully, the following year we’ll have a clearer picture of what things look like.”
Trustee Kevin Kraft said trustees must consider the long-term view. “We know, as the board of trustees, we’re the watchers of the library for the community,” he said. “We know the building has failed. It’s fading. But we’re at a new time, and we’re being asked to reimagine our future.”
Trustee David Lewis voiced support for a suggested collaboration with the town on a combined bond vote for proposed improvements to the offices on Comeau Drive. That project is on hold pending design changes and a better climate for bonding. Lewis is leaning toward postponing a bond vote. “This could turn into a public-relations issue for us if we move forward,” he said.
Trustee Bobby Bui said he want to wait for some indicators to show the fiscal shape of town taxpayers. “There has to be some markers about how this town is going to be in a couple of months,” he said.
Trustee Leslie Gerber was willing to take felt the risk of bonding this year. “I feel as though the downside of failing of the bond, which is not much at all, is less than not attempting it,” he said.
Though board president Dorothea Marcus said she saw both sides, she felt it was beneficial to bond this year. “We’ve invested years of work and lots of money,” she said. “The sooner we do this, the less expensive it’s likely to be.”
She too noted that the current building was not conducive to social distancing, whether for staff or for patrons. “To have a healthy, clean 21st-century facility will be a shot in the arm for the town,” she said. There has been a greater demand for homes in the area as more people have realized the potential of working from home.
“I think what happened with the quarantine is people saw they could work at home and it was viable,” said Marcus, who works in real estate. “There’s now people thinking of living here full-time. I think we’re going to see a revitalized economy in that way.”
Trustee Caroline Jerome said the board will face criticism no matter what its decision. That was part of the job. “We know we’ll probably be skewered for doing this,” Jerome said. “We’re used to that.”
The next full library board meeting, where a decision regarding bonding for the building plans has been promised for discussion, is set for 7 p.m. on June 18.