Woodstock Library trustees are all-in on a plan to purchase the former Miller-Howard Investments building in Bearsville and convert it into the library’s new home. At its regular meeting July 22, the library board reviewed preliminary floor plans for the building and discussed possible options for a public vote on bond issue.
The board feels the availability of the Dixon Avenue building on property that once housed Simulaids presents the perfect opportunity for new quarters after the narrow defeat of a $5.8 million bond vote in November. That plan was for replacing the existing library with a new facility at its same Tinker Street site designed by Dobbs Ferry architect Stephen Tilly. Trustees feel that by purchasing the Miller-Howard offices in Bearsville, the existing building, cherished by many in town, can be saved by selling it to someone who can use it for something else.
After the bond defeat, the board revisited a renovation option, but has ruled it out as risky and expensive. Trustees say that a recent engineering study confirmed suspicions the existing building is structurally deficient and can’t continue as a library because it does not meet the load-bearing requirements of 150 pounds per square foot as required by current building code. Retrofitting it is fraught with problems, they say, because of a lack of crawl space necessary to install beefed-up supporting beams, as the study suggests.
Facilities Committee member Marty Nystrom has done the architectural work pro bono with the help of committee chair and trustee Howard Kagan, which, trustees believe will save a significant amount of money. Nystrom has gone as far as constructing a model of what the building at the new site would look like with an addition.
JC Alten, who was hired as Construction Manager Agent for the Tilly plan, was retained to consult on the Miller-Howard building. A minimal amount of renovation is necessary since the building was constructed in 2015. “Once we get the renderings and once we get the estimates, I anticipate calling a special board meeting to take the next step,” board President Jeff Collins said. “The next step would be to initiate a SEQRA (State Environmental Quality Review Act) process. Even though it’s not a new building, the SEQRA process is required before we can do the bond.”
The library’s attorney believes it could be a lower-level review because it is an existing building, Collins said. He believes the library will miss the August 2 deadline to get on the November 2 ballot, so a special election will need to be held.
4100 square foot addition
The two-story building is L-shaped and has just over 12,000 square feet. Plans call for a single-story 4100-square-foot addition to fill in the open part of the L. The addition will house the children’s room and a large presentation space. A long hallway in the front can be used as gallery space and there is a lot of room for workspaces or study carrels, library Director Jessica Kerr explained. “The genius I think of Howard and Marty’s plan is that it uses all the existing bathrooms,” Kerr said.
The building also has two full kitchens that can be used for events or even to hold cooking classes. The building has a high-speed fiberoptic Internet connection and is wired with networking cables all throughout it. There is a server room where computer equipment can be housed.
Energy-efficient heat pumps were installed at the time of construction and the library can take advantage of an existing roof-mounted solar array for further savings. There are 45 parking spaces in the lot and an additional 10 spaces curbside.
The building would allow ample space for meetings and conference rooms, something the currently library is lacking.
“I can’t tell you the number of people that come and they need to have a meeting, they need to do an online meeting, they need to take the class and this space doesn’t support that,” Kerr said pointing around the reading room where the trustees meet after the library is closed.
The layout of the Miller-Howard building will allow for a separate entrance to the presentation area, so the rest of the library can be closed and locked after hours while still allowing groups to hold meetings and events.
In the current library, groups using the building for meetings have full access to almost everything except for the staff and director’s offices because there is no way to segregate it. That exposes the library’s collections to possible theft.
A proper estimate
Alten said Nystrom’s work allows for better estimates much earlier in the process, which could save time and money. “So basically what I’m seeing is a set of drawings that have enough information that we could instead of throwing numbers that we can actually do what’s called a takeoff estimate,” he said. “We start to actually break down the number of existing windows, the square footage of this element. So taking off means that there’s enough information that you can actually count things and measure things and document them and build a proper estimate.”
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Miller-Howard staff started working from home. Like many companies, they have re-evaluated their office needs and have decided they could conduct business without a central office.
Collins said he couldn’t disclose the asking price because they are still in talks, but thanked the owners for being gracious enough to hold the building for the library while it works out the funding.
Collins did say the purchase, renovation and addition cost will likely be less than the Tilly proposal.
The plan is to keep the library operational in the current building until work is completed at the former Miller-Howard offices. The library would only have to close for a few days while things are moved.
For the foreseeable future, the annual Library Fair can still be held on the front lawn on Library Lane.
“It is my belief we will not sell the lawn. Of course that’s up to the board. That’s not my decision, but we keep the lawn and we sell this particular building now. We keep the lawn for the library fairs and make sure it stays green.”