Schenectady County

Schenectady County library trustees push expansion

Trustees of the Schenectady County Public Library are pressing county officials to approve a plan to

Trustees of the Schenectady County Public Library are pressing county officials to approve a plan to expand the central library on Clinton Street, a move that could result in a showdown over governance of the system.

If the county does not agree with the trustees’ proposal, trustees said they will push ahead with efforts to split from the county and form a special district with its own taxing authority. Trustees made their comments at their monthly meeting Thursday night.

Trustees are upset with the county over a lack of progress on a proposal that would add 13,000 square feet to the library for a cost estimated at between $5 million and $6 million. They sent the proposal to the county in March, hoping for a quick approval. The answer they got back was that county staff will meet with Library Director Andy Kulmatiski today to discuss whether the proposal meets the library’s needs for the next 20 years.

Trustees Thursday night said their proposal is cost-effective and adequately meets the library’s needs.

“This is more space than we previously had,” Kulmatiski said.

Trustees said today’s staff meeting is an attempt by the county to stall the project.

“This is delay and delay again. They will nitpick this until we go away. We are not going away,” said Trustee John Karl. “We’re out of it, and I am upset we have been ignored for two months. Our comments, our opinions count for nothing.”

Legislator Gary Hughes, D-Schenectady, the Legislature’s liaison with the library board, disagreed.

“I feel there has been a lot of dialogue. We are asking for specific information to see if this squares up with their long-term plans,” he said. “We don’t want to make another mistake, and we want to stay in sync with them.”

Hughes said the county has several major projects on the board it needs to accomplish and does not have the money to do the expansion.

“This entire reopening of the dialogue started with the hope we would be able to get some stimulus money, which has not happened,” Hughes said.

Karl said the county should meet with trustees “because trustees are custodians of library. The county does not realize this. They refuse to recognize us beyond social functions and rubber-stamping proposals.”

Karl said the county is asking trustees to “register every square inch of a project that will cost $5 million” when the county itself plans to bond for up to $51 million for a new nursing home for which it does not have a fully detailed architectural plan.

The library board attempted to pass a resolution asking that the county either accept or reject the trustees’ proposal, but the resolution was rejected.

The proposed expansion includes construction of a two-story addition on the two northern corners of library, near the parking lot. It includes an elevator on the eastern side of the library, which would open the branch’s upstairs to the public.

Karl said under this proposal, the library would not have to be closed while the work is under way. The new addition would be connected to the existing library’s heating, air conditioning and other systems, he said.

“It leaves room for when economic times are better to expand the library eastward toward the police station,” Karl said.

Friends of the Library and the trustees have already raised $2 million in pledges for the expansion. The county could bond the remaining $3 million to $4 million, Karl said.

Also Thursday night, Karl told trustees that he reactivated the Governance Committee. The committee is looking at how to split from county control and form a special library district with its own taxing authority. The county currently provides a $5 million annual budget to the library system.

Trustees established the committee last year, following a joint decision by the county and the trustees to abandon a long-planned expansion of the main downtown branch in favor of making more than $1 million in renovations to heating and electrical systems. The renovations are nearly complete.

Karl said he shut down the committee several months ago because he didn’t want to antagonize county officials and wanted to promote communications between trustees and county legislators.

When that did not happen, Karl said, the Governance Committee Wednesday night agreed to conduct a survey to determine public support for the special library district. Siena College will conduct the survey this fall, he said.

“This is the first step. We are looking at an amiable divorce or whether it will be hostile,” Karl said.

The county must approve home rule legislation to allow the library system to split from the county.

The former expansion plan would have added 9,000 square feet at a cost of cost $7.7 million. The 40-year-old library has outgrown its space, officials said. The plan was abandoned when a project manager hired by the county determined that the central branch would have to be closed for up to 18 months during the work. The news caused a public uproar, and the county said it would seek alternative bids for the project with the goal of minimizing any closures.

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