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Guilderland Archives The Altamont Enterprise, February 24, 2011
In a bind
By Melissa Hale-Spencer
GUILDERLAND Continuing on a course that has been waylaid by the recession, the Guilderland library trustees are moving towards a public vote in 2012 on their expansion plan.
In April of 2008, the trustees at the time unanimously supported a plan to renovate and nearly double the size of the library for $11 million or $12 million.
“Then, the shit hit the fan,” said Robert Ganz this week; he heads the library’s long-range planning committee.
While the economic downturn delayed the project, it also increased use of the library. The 2009-10 year, which runs from July to June, saw a 23-percent increase in program attendance, according to Barbara Nichols Randall, the library’s director. She called that increase “an indication of recession” that is, more people are looking for free things to do.
The Guilderland Public Library follows school district boundaries, and includes most of the town of Guilderland, which has a population of about 34,000. In 2009-10, the library had 328,475 visits from patrons. “I always say, a thousand people a day,” said Nichols Randall.
Circulation also increased this past year, with 596,630 paper materials being checked out; this does not include electronic items.
“We’re full,” said Nichols Randall. “To add things to our collections, we have to get rid of other things.”
She went on, “We have tremendous use and don’t see any other way to go except to turn to the community and see if it’s viable.”
The long-range planning committee has been meeting for six or seven months, working with architect Frank Craine of Peter Gisolfi Associates.
Ganz this week went over the steps that preceded the committee’s work. In the fall of 2009, he said, a scientific survey was conducted to gauge the public’s views on the appropriateness of the project, and focus groups were held to find out what the priorities were in a new addition.
“We found strong support for expansion,” said Ganz.
Then, this year’s library budget, which voters passed with a solid margin in May, included about $100,000 to pay architect and engineer fees to proceed with designing the project. “When that passed, we found that to be another reaffirmation,” said Ganz.
The committee has been working to develop a detailed schematic design, he said, for two reasons: to get a firm estimate of costs, and to submit a plan to the New York State Education Department for preliminary approval.
“I want to be very clear, there has not been a decision to go ahead and build,” said Ganz.
He also said, “My expectation is at the March or April meeting and I could be wrong the board will accept the new schematic plan.”
“Making every space functional”
The latest plan is very similar to the original, which would bring the library’s total square footage to about 46,500, up from the current 26,500 square feet. The brick and metal one-story library was built on Western Avenue in 1995. The addition, which Craine described as “a green building,” is to include a rooftop garden and geothermal wells. He estimated the building, once approved, would take 15 to 18 months to complete.
Most of the added space would be a two-and-a-half story addition on property to the east of the current building, which the library purchased in recent years. The architects had to work around steep slopes and wet conditions. “The shape would take on more of the vernacular gabled roofs with dormers,” said Craine. “The building wraps around and embraces the parking lot.”
Noting that technology and demographics change, he estimated the new building would function for the library for “20 years-plus.”
Ganz said this week that the initial idea of a “market square that would be the spine of the library…an active light-filled space” remains in the plans as does a teen library contained in its own space in the current building with an expanded children’s space as well.
The main floor is still to feature a traditional reading room, which, Ganz said, would be “quiet so adults can read and study.” The top floor is to have additional study spaces.
Public input changed plans so that the local history resource center is now planned for the ground floor rather than the mezzanine. Even though the new library would have an elevator, making the upper floor accessible to those with handicaps, Ganz said, both students and adults would use the history resource center, which will house genealogy records as well as documents pertinent to local history. The thought was that “retired folks” would be some of the most frequent users and having the center on the ground floor would make it more accessible, said Ganz.
The new addition is to be built into the hillside, he said, and the side with windows facing the parking lot would house the local history center while technical rooms and mechanical rooms on the other side would be windowless, saving energy.
Another change recommended by the public, he said, was to move the main entrance from its current location to the intersection with the new wing.
Ganz stressed, “We’re not doing anything for aesthetics only. We’re committed to making every space functional.”
Nichols Randall said that, once the schematic plan is complete and accepted, “The board will confer with people who have done this before, and decide how to finance the expansion.” She said there are two choices: The project could be funded through the school district as the original library building was, or through the state’s Dormitory Authority.
A school district, she explained, can buy bonds, which a library can’t do on its own. For funding through the Dormitory Authority, one of the district’s representatives, she said, naming Assemblyman John McEneny or Senator Neil Breslin, has to get the library listed in the appropriate statute. That course “might be less expensive,” she said.
Nichols Randall also noted that several grants the library has applied for have taken care of aspects outlined in the original building proposal.
Photovoltaic panels on the roof were part of the original concept, and the current library now has those. The library received a $200,000 grant from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority to fund the solar panels.
The library also received a 50-50 grant from the state, which paid half, or about $25,000, of the costs for creating a meeting room, which now houses local history materials.
Another grant application has been made, for about $250,000, to move a sewer line.
“We’ve been trying to apply for grants that would pick off some of the things we want,” said Nichols Randall. “This year, the budget is tight…We have only a one-month operating cushion….
“We’ve gone slowly,” she concluded of proceeding with the project. “The trustees are all supportive of expanding the library…The concern is whether the community feels they could support it. On the other hand, it’s the perfect time for construction,” she said, noting those with building projects in the recession are “able to maximize their money because bids have been coming in lower.”