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Library’s fate still up in the air in Highland

by Erin Quinn
January 13, 2011 02:27 PM | 0 0 comments | 15 15 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Pictured are the Highland Library Board of Trustees: Financial Officer Mark McPeck, First Vice President Susan Bacchi, Director Julie Kelsall-Dempsey, President Peter Fadness, Secretary Dana Wood and Second Vice President Susan Murcko. Photo by Lauren Thomas.
Pictured are the Highland Library Board of Trustees: Financial Officer Mark McPeck, First Vice President Susan Bacchi, Director Julie Kelsall-Dempsey, President Peter Fadness, Secretary Dana Wood and Second Vice President Susan Murcko. Photo by Lauren Thomas.
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After a close, contentious vote in Highland on a $6.59 million proposal to purchase and renovate an 11,440-square-foot building on Commercial Avenue for a new library failed, the Library Board has to decide what the fate of the library might be. Last week, the board met in the cramped upstairs corridor of the current 2,500-square-foot library on Church Street to discuss what its next step might be. Many of the same residents who had spoken in favor of and against the proposition were there to try and find some common ground and encourage the board to move in one direction or another.

“I hope that you do bring the proposition back to the voters, as it was a very close vote,” said J. Jeffrey Anzevin. “It was a great location, a reasonable plan, and I think that we do need a nice library in Highland. It is one of the best investments a community can make, as it is one of the main things that attracts people to live here, move here, site businesses here … there are lots of new residential developments being proposed and this library is way too small to handle the population we have now. What happens when we have 500, 1,000 more new homes?”

Resident Michael Kehr said that he wasn’t “against” a new library, though he voted “no” on the proposition. He said that “every town needs a library and my wife uses this library every week.”

“I’m not sour about the proposition, I just think that you (the board) need to understand that people are in foreclosure, they’re losing their homes and jobs and the economy is tough,” he said. “An extra $78 (of taxes per year for the proposed new library) could be the tipping point for some people, and I think that with overhead costs it would have been a lot more than that.”

Kehr, a builder himself, suggested that the board “bring the plans back down to something more reasonable. I think that if you scaled back the price and size, that would help a lot.”

Joanne Loewenthal, a resident of Highland for more than 30 years, said that she and her family were “devastated” when the vote went down 716 to 811. “I congratulate the board for the work they did, for the courage you had in bringing this forward, and I hope you bring it back to the voters because it was a very close vote.”

She added that “the two most important things a community has to attract and retain people is a good school system and a good library … continue your courage. I thought the plan was very reasonable, very well-thought out and I thank you.”

Donna Deeprose said that her “heart was broken” after the vote, but that she listened to people, friends and neighbors who felt the dollar amount, during this economic climate, was too high. “What I want to know is what would be a reasonable amount that people would support? What is that number? I’m not saying it’s the right number, but what would be acceptable to people?”

Others that spoke during the public input portion of the meeting suggested that the board consider renting the top floor of the two-story building (owned by Matt Smith) as a way to make the library smaller and bring some revenue in.

When it came time for the board to discuss the future, they first thanked the public for speaking and lending their thoughts post-vote.

“Thank you all for coming,” said Library Board President Peter Fadness. “Of course we’re disappointed,” he said referring to the bond proposition failing. “But we want and are listening to your feedback. I feel that we raised consciousness in town about the state of our library, which is great and I hope that with all of your help we can find a direction for the future.”

The Church Street library has served a growing Highland community since the 1930s. Today, quarters are so cramped that the library must eliminate a piece of inventory to squeeze a new book on the shelves. Per its charter, the library serves approximately 12,830 people in a district congruent with the Highland Central School District.

The search for a larger library began in 1989, and has included 14 prospective sites in the ensuing years.

With all of that said, the president noted that the board has two options to purchase -- both of which expire on Feb. 11 -- one for Smith’s building on Commercial Avenue and then a building at 37 Main Street. He said that he felt the board should “exhaust all options before cancelling one or the other.”

To that end, the board, responding to the various feedback they received prior to and after the vote, noted that even if they were to scale down the proposed library bond for the Commercial Avenue site, that they would still be required to renovate the entire two stories to make it handicapped accessible (with an elevator) and usable. If they were to consider renting the upstairs, then that cost would still have to be borne up front.

That said, the board members noted that renting a space had legal questions, as well as management questions, that they could not answer immediately. Fadness, for one, thought that the public library should not take on the “business of being landlords.”

Some board members argued that the Commercial Avenue site was the best site because of the 37 parking spaces it would offer and the access to the rail trail. However, board members now say they could have their architect take a harder look at bringing those costs down, looking at 37 Main Street and keeping it to a one-floor building to avoid the cost of an elevator and other additional costs with building a second floor.

“We could always build up and not out if we needed to expand in the future,” board member Mark McPeck said.

Fadness suggested that the board contact their architect, to have them look at ways of downsizing the cost to the Commercial Avenue site and what kind of plan they could come up with for 37 Main Street that the public might favor.

“I think that we should have a meeting with our architect and members of the public, particularly those who spoke out at the public information sessions so that there can be a good productive dialogue of what our options are,” Fadness said.

The board praised the architecture firm, claiming that they have built many public libraries and were recommended to them by the Mid-Hudson Library Association and also noted that the firm was not charging them a percentage of the total cost of the project, but a “fee for services.”

The board voted to call the architects and try to set up a meeting with the public and the board as soon as possible.

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