Schenectady County

Library prepares for project bids

The long-planned project to expand and repair the main branch of the Schenectady County library will
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The long-planned project to expand and repair the main branch of the Schenectady County library will go out to bid in May, with expectations that construction could begin in June, officials said.

However, the county legislators who hold the purse strings on the $7.7 million project could still delay construction if bids come in too high.

“My position and that of the majority is that we absolutely have to see the cost. We have to see how much we need to borrow and what the repayment terms will be,” said county Legislator Gary Hughes, D-Schenectady, chairman of the Legislature’s Library Committee.

Nonetheless, Hughes, who serves as the Legislature’s liaison to the library’s Board of Trustees, said his personal view is “we should move forward with the project. There is a commitment of private dollars.”

The county itself faces a budget shortfall of at least $5 million looking at 2009. Legislators are seeking ways to reduce costs and increase revenues without resorting to tax increases; some have discussed delaying the start of several major construction projects, such as the library expansion, as a way to reduce costs next year. There is also talk about closing library branches and reducing nonmandated services.

“There are legislators who feel we should delay, but we need to know how much the library project will cost,” Hughes said.

The county Legislature would provide $5.7 million toward the project, paid through bonds. The library board and Friends of the Library have raised about $2 million in private donations since the project was announced four years ago.

Library Director Andrew Kulmatiski said, “The goal is go out to bid in May and, if they get everything done, break ground in July.”

Kulmatiski said bid estimates may come in lower than expected based on current economic conditions. “Material costs are high, but builders are hungry for work,” he said.

Esther Swanker, president of the trustees, said county officials have neither firmly committed for or against the project. “They are saying let’s get the bids in,” she said.

Hughes said the library desperately needs repairs. “If we had a great building that was well maintained we could make the argument we not expand it, but status quo is not something we can deal with,” he said. “You have to upgrade and replace building systems that are 30 years old; the majority of the building is in bad shape.”

Engberg Anderson Design Partnerships of Milwaukee, Wis., prepared the final design. It calls for the addition of 9,000 square feet to the first floor of the 37-year-old building at Clinton and Liberty streets. While this is less than the originally proposed 15,000-square-foot expansion, the new design contains double the space for the children’s room, a small cafe, a performance center and a private reading room. It also retains the building’s architectural look through the use of brick and precast and poured concrete.

The design will remove the protruding semi-circular McChesney Room from the library’s Clinton Street side and make the entire wall flush. Library officials will rename another area the McChesney Room.

The Schenectady Heritage Foundation, a volunteer preservationist group, opposes the demolition of the McChesney Room. The group believes the library’s current configuration is historically significant architecture that should be preserved.

Foundation members said the American Institute of Architects named the county library as one of the 100 most architecturally important structures built in the state in the 20th century.

The library project, launched in 2004, has undergone several design revisions. The major change occurred in 2007 when county Legislature Chairman Susan Savage, D-Niskayuna, balked at the building’s exterior design and plans to add a second entrance from the rear parking lot.

Construction is expected to take 16 to 18 months. The work would be performed in phases, which would allow the library to remain open during most of the construction.

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