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Guilderland Archives The Altamont Enterprise, December 22, 2011
Will GCSD back bonds?
GUILDERLAND Trustees of the Guilderland Public Library are unanimous in wanting to bring their $11.8 million expansion plan to public vote in 2012.
“The trustees voted on December 1 to move forward with making an investment in Guilderland’s future by having a library that its citizens deserve,” said Robert Ganz; he heads the library’s long-range planning committee.
The vote has been a long time coming and now may be complicated by legislated limits placed on tax levies.
In April of 2008, the trustees at the time were also unanimous in their support of plans to renovate and nearly double the size of the library. Then the recession intervened.
While the economic downturn delayed the project, it also increased use of the library. Last year, Barbara Nichols Randall, the library’s director, said the library saw a 23-percent increase in program attendance, as more people are looking for free things to do. Circulation has also increased.
“The process began in 2003 with our strategic planning process,” said Ganz this week. “The library is out of space to fulfill the functions we need to fulfill….We’re bursting at the seams. Citizens are attending in record numbers.”
He went on, “We’ve had the costs independently verified. At the end of the day, the trustees believe that waiting does not insure a more affordable library project. If we don’t go forward, due to age, we’d be faced with other significant obligations over the next several years.”
The Guilderland Public Library follows school district boundaries and includes most of the town of Guilderland as well as small parts of Bethlehem, New Scotland, and Knox. As a public library, it is governed by its own board and has taxing powers.
The project, Nichols Randall explained to The Enterprise earlier, 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.
“It looks as though we’ll use school district bonding,” said Ganz this week. “It’s less cumbersome and less costly for the taxpayers.”
The matter is not a simple one since the state enacted legislation earlier this year setting a tax-levy limit of 2 percent or the rate of inflation, whichever is less. School districts may exceed that limit with 60 percent or more of the public vote.
“We were ready to go earlier, but the tax-levy limit and all the different interpretations caused some confusion,” said Ganz. He said the library had been guided by the State Comptroller’s Office and the New York State Library Association. “They indicate it is an appropriate project and won’t violate the tax levy limit rules,” he said. “It could go forward without harming school budgetary issues.”
At the Dec. 13 school board meeting, however, President Colleen O’Connell, while supportive of the library project, said there are “many, many unanswered legal questions.”
“This is the first time a school district library is seeking to do an expansion in the first year of the tax-levy limit,” she said.
The major question is whether the bonding, if handled through the school district, would count against the school’s tax limit or the library’s.
Neil Sanders, the school district’s assistant superintendent for business, told The Enterprise that the district requested clarification from the State Education Department, which, in turn, had to consult with the New York State Division of Budget.
“We haven’t gotten any clarification in terms of tax-levy limit calculation and how it would work,” Sanders said this week.
It’s too soon to say whether or not the district would agree to work with the library on funding, he said. “The library has options…We are in the information-gathering mode,” said Sanders. “We’re trying to make sure we all enter the conversation knowing what the regulations are so we can work through this process.”
At last week’s school board meeting, board member Allan Simpson, asked if the school district, facing shrinking enrollment and mounting costs, were to close one of its five elementary schools if the library might use that building.
“We have not had a discussion on closing a school,” responded O’Connell. “They have an architect’s rendering and have purchased property.”
Ganz said this week, “A vote in favor of this bond in 2012 will not cause a rise in anybody’s taxes for a number of years.”
He also said it was premature to speculate on what the tax rate for the project would be.
Asked if the library, given a successful public vote, has a timeline for construction, Ganz said, “At least one year, possibly two, and then it would be staged. It’s presently the intention to have the library operate during the entire process.”
The current plan is similar to the original, Ganz said, 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 would be what the architects at Peter Gisolfi Associates described as “a green building,” and would include a rooftop garden and geothermal wells.
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 architect Frank Craine of Peter Gisolfi Associates in making an earlier presentation. “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 that the initial idea of a “market square that would be the spine of the library…an active light-filled space” remains in the plan, 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.”
Ganz concluded, “We want to stress that we understand these are difficult economic times. Given the way people use the library and the importance it has in the community, we do feel this is a prudent and important decision to meet real needs.”
By Melissa Hale-Spencer