Woodstock Library officials tried to change focus from finger-pointing to solutions as they come up with ways to fulfill programming needs while weighing the cost-effectiveness of maintaining a structure that was never meant to be a library.
Trustees held a public forum to discuss the findings of recent environmental and structural studies of the current building’s status.
While no new information was communicated between the reports’ release and discussion at the regular trustee meeting last week, the public hearing via videoconference was the first time an entire meeting was open to public comment on the studies.
The reports were commissioned as part of an effort to figure out how to address the library’s space needs since voters narrowly defeated a $5.8 million bond for a new building in November.
Gay Leonhardt said the Facilities Task Force, formed initially to come up with a plan to address future needs, recommended addressing the ongoing mold issue
“So that was like many, many, many years ago. And I feel that bringing that up now is way too late. I don’t understand why the library has not been taking care of the maintenance issues that would be required to keep a safe building,” Leonhardt said.
She accused the board of doing nothing to resolve the mold issues.
Veteran library trustee Barry Miller defended the board’s actions, noting it has done what it can to mitigate mold in the building.
“The library board has dealt with the basement by removing the pallets, getting rid of the water that is in the basement and mitigating the mold,” Miller said.
“We’ve gone through all those processes, but we live on a stream. Everybody has to understand that the water is not going to go away. There’s a stream underneath the ground, underneath the building.”
Board president Jeff Collins interjected, saying the focus shouldn’t be on what was or wasn’t done in the past, but what needs to be done now to address the problems.
“I don’t think we need to talk about history. But this has been a contentious issue for a long time in this town. Right? And we all understand that,” Collins said.
“We all understand that. We can go back and say what should have happened, what didn’t happen, what might have happened, what could have happened. That’s not what we’re here for today. We’re here to talk about what the current condition of the building is, where we are today and what we can do to deal with the future. I think that’s the point here,” he added. “And maybe people are upset at the library board for not doing something in the past. I don’t know, whatever. That’s not the point here. The point is, what do we do now? What is the condition now?”
In order to mitigate the mold, the crawl space must be sealed and the HVAC system should be moved to the ground floor, otherwise it will keep pushing mold-contaminated air throughout the rest of the building, the report found.
Structure does not meet modern code for libraries
The current building, a hodgepodge of different additions cobbled together through the decades, more closely resembles residential construction and does not meet 150 pounds per square foot weight-load requirements for libraries. Floor joists and beams can be retrofitted with extra supports, but the limited space — on some cases an estimated 18 inches — is too small to fit and secure any structural members, according to the structural study.
David Ekroth, who worked with FEMA, noted renovations in a floodplain area costing more than half the value of the structure must be brought up to full code.
Ekroth is chair of the town Commission for Civic Design, but was not speaking in an official capacity.
“In other words, if the cost of renovating this library was half or exceeded more than half the value of the structure, then you have to bring the whole thing up to present code,” Ekroth said.
The structure would also have to be raised above the current flood elevation, he noted. “And on top of that, it’s not just the floor elevations, it’s wind loading for the windows, the roof system, the structure of the roof for hurricane loading for wind loading, etc. etc, etc.
“It’s very clear,” said Ekroth. “This building is not worth saving. It’s got too many problems. It will be very expensive to renovate. The planning doesn’t fit a 21st-century library. It needs to look forward to the 22nd century.”
Moving the library, selling current building an option
“It’s a possibility, you know, we’re looking at it because that’s a potential way to solve the problem. And it has some advantages,” Collins said. “And some of those advantages are that we don’t have to find a temporary location, or where you’re built.”
The library has explored some locations including the Miller/Howard Investments building as a possibility that require minimal investment to convert to a library.
“From my point of view… And this is my point of view, not the board’s point of view… I feel that we will be able to relocate at a lower cost and get a better library,” Collins said.
Collins noted the library could still own the cherished front lawn while selling the current building for another use that doesn’t require as much structurally.
A dropoff/pickup center in the middle of town could mitigate moving to another location, he said.
“This report makes it seems to me perfectly obvious that we can’t do it,” resident Gail Albert said.
“And the fact that an earlier renovation plan went to $900,000 without having many of these changes makes it even more evident.”
Judith Kerman said she has owned old houses all of her career and supported the idea of either moving or constructing a new building. “I think it would be bad, good money after bad to try to renovate,” she said.
Kerman is a member of the planning board, but was speaking as a private citizen.