The cost of renovating and building an addition to the former Miller-Howard building on Dixon Avenue in Bearsville for a new library is $3 million, not including the property purchase, Woodstock Library trustees announced. The property cost cannot be discussed because the library is in negotiations with Miller-Howard Investments and is in the process of drafting a purchase proposal.
If the library decided to build the addition at a later time, the cost of just the renovation would be $1.2 million. The new addition by itself would cost $2.2 million for a total of $3.4 million if the renovation and addition are done separately, according to consultant firm JC Alten’s estimates. There is a cost savings of about $400,000 by doing the complete project at one time because contractors, equipment and materials are already on site.
The usually vocal opponents of the library’s proposed projects appear to have refrained from protesting the Miller-Howard proposal. Plans do not call for tearing down the current building. Rather it would be sold for another use.
Gay Leonhardt, who had opposed the Library previous plans, favors a wait-and-see approach to the addition, which would most house a children’s area. “My vote is move, do it, see how it goes and then decide, as opposed to making the bond all about the total cost including the potential addition,” she told the trustees at the August 19 meeting. Given the history of expensive town projects, she said it is probably best not to propose a larger bond at first.
Library Board President Jeff Collins, admitting the last bond proposal of $5.8 million, rejected by Woodstock voters last November by 11 votes, was too much, said he’s trying to figure out what number people would be comfortable approving. “Kind of what I’m trying to gauge is what the community is willing to do,” Collins said.
“I’d like to say that it’s not too soon,” said John Ludwig, also an outspoken opponent of previous plans. “In fact, I think it’s a good time to bring this to the public in a big way; to get 100 people in the room and have a dialogue with the public and try to assess what the community would like…And then you could move forward.”
David Ekroth, chairman of the town’s Commission for Civic Design, said he’s a bit torn about the idea of moving the library to Bearsville. “The library is more than just the building with the housing books. It’s an institution. And ideally, it would be in the village, I think we’d all agree to that,” he said. “But the reality is…I kind of agree with you the reality is you do need parking and all that. I go back and forth with that.”
Architect Marty Nystrom, who designed the proposed Miller-Howard renovation and addition pro bono, noted the current building cannot continue to exist as a library because the structural load-bearing capacities don’t meet current code. “Thirty-seven pounds per square foot is what certain sections of this building support when the code is 150. So I would say 37 versus 150. There’s as much danger of something going through the floor as in the Comeau or anywhere else,’ Nystrom said. Town employees have expressed concern about heavy file cabinets falling through the second floor of the offices on Comeau Drive. “This building is really in my mind, and I think in the majority of people’s minds really not salvageable as a library with 150 pounds per square foot,” he said. “Maybe as something else.”
Nystrom said the Miller-Howard building offers so many modern efficiencies such as solar arrays and an emergency generator. It has ample parking and it is also close to the geographic center of Woodstock. A recent survey showed 85 percent of patrons drive to the library. “If you look at the current Comprehensive Plan that was recently passed and accepted by the town, they say that the place to develop is out along that Bearsville flat. So that works out with the overall plan of the town,” he said.
Splitting the renovation and addition is attractive, but has its disadvantages.
“To me the idea of just bonding to renovate the building and get us started there, even though it won’t be the ideal space setup, and then taking the money from selling this building, and then raising money…You could get the presentation space named after a donor or something, or the children’s area named after donor,” Trustee Dorothea Marcus said. “And it would, yes, it would cost us $300,000 or $400,000 more to do it separately, but I just think it would be so much more likely to get voted on by the town.”
But Director Jessica Kerr said the lack of space in the current building has been an issue for at least the past 14 years. “It’s really disruptive, it has not helped our service, it has made it hard for the staff to do excellent service, and I have said I would be incredibly frustrated if we were doing all sorts of work in passing a bond and not getting what the community has very clearly said that it needs,” Kerr said. “I very strongly have to say that we don’t have a performance space. This is it,” she said, pointing to the walls of the reading room where the meeting was being held. “It doesn’t function well for our community. The children’s room is way too small. We need a better setup. And those two functions, not having them after 14 years, or however long we’ve had this,” she said. “But this debate has been going on for that many years that to add another three to five or maybe…the community will say ‘You want more money now? Get out of here.’”
Trustees will need to decide if the renovation and addition will be completed as one project or split into two. Within a week or two, Collins hopes a purchase agreement will be made. After that, it must undergo a State Environmental Quality Review Act process, or SEQRA, and if all goes well, a bond vote could be scheduled sometime in December.