Library Director Julie Dempsey revealed plans for a new venue at a public meeting on Wednesday, Sept. 22 at American Legion Post #193. The Highland Public Library Board of Trustees is planning a December public vote on a $6-7 million 20-year bond to enable the purchase and renovation of Matt Smith’s two-story, 11,440-sq.ft. industrial warehouse on Commercial Avenue.
The library’s current location has been brimming with books for a long time.
“We’ve been looking at building a new site for years now,” said Library Director Julie Dempsey.
The Church Street property was designed as a home. It has no insulation, and ancient heating and lighting systems. The physical constraints are causing collection size and safety issues. There is a lack of parking and no potential for future expansion at the site.
“The existing building is aging; it was not designed as a library originally, and it has outgrown the actual structure. [It] is tremendously overcrowded at the moment. In order to add any item to the collection, another item has to be weeded from the collection,” said Paul Mays of Butler Rowland Mays Architects, LLP.
Butler Rowland Mays was hired by the board to facilitate site selection and design of the new Highland library. The firm specializes in contemporary library design; recently completed projects in Warwick and Gardiner; and is currently working on a large addition to the Saugerties Public Library.
The Commercial Avenue site is ideal for many reasons, said Mays. The two-story masonry structure has adequate strength on each level. It’s two blocks away from the existing library and adjacent to the Hudson Valley Rail Trail. Raised grading in the rear would allow for dual-level access. And it could draw Commercial Avenue into a downtown hamlet function, in line with ideals outlined by the Lloyd Master Plan.
“In some ways, it gets back to the idea of revitalizing the western side of the hamlet,” said Mays.
The property design includes green space, an outdoor programs area, sidewalks, landscaping, pedestrian access and 35 parking spaces, and allows for future expansion. Level 1 features: the children’s a teens’ collections; a meeting room with seating for 63, a small kitchenette and storage areas; lobby and elevator; ornamental glass-front stairway; teen space; children’s help desk and toddler area. Level 2 boasts: Rail Trail access; fiction, non-fiction, new, popular and periodical collections; a local history room; circulation desk; staff processing area; director’s office and staff break room.
No new staff would need to be hired because of the efficient layout, said Dempsey.
Quintupling space could mean doubling taxes for homeowners in the library’s charter area (which mirrors the Highland Central School District). The owner of a $300,000 home currently pays $87 per year in library taxes. If voters approve the bond proposition in December, the average increase in tax would be $80-100 per year for the life of the bond.
Local business owner Ellen Roberto Heptinstal said that raising the library tax to nearly $200 per $300,000 home for the next 20 years seemed “unconscionable.”
“Your work is magnificent, but unless we have one hell of an endowment or somebody left the library a lot of money, it’s unconscionable in my mind. Thirty years ago, we had the Highland Free Library. Every book you have, every piece of furniture that’s over 30 years old was 100 percent public donation. From that, we have grown into a system that costs the taxpayers $380,000 a year... We need a new library or we need a major makeover, but [$7 million]?” said Heptinstal.
The proposed bond includes the $450,000 purchase price for the Commercial Avenue property. There is $350,000 from fundraising in the library’s capital fund to cover initial soft costs, said Dempsey. The library may apply for a construction grant from the Dormitory Authority of the State of New York -- but not until primary funding is secured through an approved bond.
“The board has been working seriously and responsibly... I do want to say it sounds like a large jump, but this library has needed a renovation for 30-some years. Of course it’s going to look like a big jump, but it’s not outlandish or ludicrous. We’re looking at what we feel this community deserves and what people are going to want to see. I’d like to see a building we’re proud of,” said Board of Trustees President Peter Fadness.
Several audience members spoke out in support of the new library.
“I’m drooling, here! I think this is a beautiful library,” said one woman.
“To me, it is the best tax money I spend in this state. I get much more than $70 value... Small as it is and crowded as it is, I still get fantastic personal service,” said Highland resident Robert Bacchi.
“I know this [proposed] site quite well. Everything I see looks great. If I have to pay [additional] to make this thing work, I’d be totally for it,” said downtown hamlet resident David Finch.
A second public meeting (TBA) will be held before the December vote.