The Schenectady County Public Library’s central branch will not close for expansion July 1 as originally planned. It also may not build all of what was considered much-needed space.
Officials announced Saturday that the county will solicit additional bid requests for revised construction plans, with the hope that the alternatives will cost less than the current $7.7 million plan, tackle many of the same overdue updating priorities and close the library for considerably less than the 10 to 12 months forecast, which drew a firestorm of protest.
“We wanted to get the information that we’re looking at some other options into the hands of the community,” said county Legislator Gary Hughes, D-Schenectady, chairman of the county Legislature’s education and library committee.
Now, construction won’t happen until the end of summer at the earliest, since officials have postponed the deadline to seek the additional bids. They had planned to review bids May 22.
Friends of Schenectady County Public Library President Bernard Allanson said then he thought the Legislature pushed the original project through without public discussion. On Saturday, he was encouraged to hear officials were backing off.
“I would say that the public has had a significant impact on the Legislature. I applaud the Legislature for listening,” he said.
Hughes said the new plan was announced to address concerns from the public and county officials themselves about closing the library for so long.
The county Legislature is still accepting bids for the original plan, which aims to add 9,000 square feet to the first floor. In addition, in the coming weeks county legislators will ask for bids for two alternate approaches.
The main thrust is still to take care of overdue improvements to the 40-year-old building and its systems, such as heating, air-conditioning and other mechanicals, considered 75 percent of the original project. But rather than expand for the needed space, the additional bid requests emphasize updating existing space to use it more efficiently for programming, thus avoiding closing the library branch for the lengthy period of time believed necessary.
Officials said they believe they can limit closings to a matter of weeks, which could be staggered or broken up to minimize patron disruption.
Also on Saturday, the city school district announced it would open its libraries to the public for extended hours during any shutdown of the public library’s central branch. Library administrators had previously indicated that they were drawing up contingency plans to increase programs and services at the system’s nine branches and other sites downtown should the library close for a prolonged period due to the original construction plan.
The first part of additional bid requests, being called Alternate A, would focus just on replacing major systems in the building — heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems, removing asbestos and general upgrades to the first floor. The library would be closed only a short time during this phase, officials said.
Alternate B would reconfigure the 22,600-square-foot second floor, which is currently used for library administration and storage. Library materials stored on the second floor can be consolidated to make way for use of this space for library services and programs, Hughes said.
“We can have the expanded program space within the library but have it within the four walls of the building,” Hughes said.
Library board members had previously indicated that they believed closing the main branch would be the best option for completing the project on time, within budget and safely. They cited concerns about being able to contain asbestos during removal and the need to reconstruct parking and sidewalks.
The McChesney Room and other parts of the first floor would be upgraded under Alternate B. The previous plan would have replaced the rounded McChesney meeting space, reconfiguring the space for a cafe, performance center, a private reading room and expanded the children’s room.
The two alternates are designed to be completed together in place of the original plan.
“We could do a much better job of planning, and people could have access to what is obviously a very important part of the community to them,” he said.
A public outcry ensued last month after officials announced plans to close the main library while renovations took place. Although more programs at the county library’s nine branches were promised, downtown library patrons were concerned about the closure’s impact on the community, particularly on children who use the library regularly.
The Friends of the Schenectady County Public Library last week launched an effort to keep the county from closing the library for up to a year, noting that in addition to books, the public would be losing valuable programs and free Internet access.
The friends group distributed 1,000 surveys to people attending its book sale last weekend at the central library. People returned 725, and 710 of the respondents said they did not want to see the library closed.