A long time coming, new library opens

Roeliff Jansen Community Library welcomes users Nov. 6

COPAKE — It took 10 years of planning and 20 months for construction, but at last the new Roeliff Jansen Community Library opens its doors this weekend.

The public is invited to an array of celebratory events on Saturday and Sunday, November 6 and 7 at the new, 7,500-square-foot structure on Route 22 just south of Hillsdale. You can’t miss the Big Green Chair out front. More on that below.


Meg Wormley, co-chair of the library Capital Campaign Committee that raised the funding, says the new building was worth the wait. “The good part is we’re all very exited about this. The best thing is that it is a beautiful space. We had an event for donors recently and it was so interesting to watch as so many of them, who had not been in the building before, walked in, and you could see them say, ‘Wow.’”

The environmentally friendly facility, designed to be a model for “green” energy savings, is spacious, airy and full of natural light. The library’s new home more than doubles the usable square footage of the old library on Route 23 in the hamlet of Hillsdale, which is slated to become the new Hillsdale Town Hall, after renovations. Despite the new library’s larger size, it should actually cost less to operate that the old building.

Initial completion projections were for late 2009, then early this year, but the opening date kept getting  pushed ahead due to weather delays, funding pauses, and the usual unforeseen construction project glitches.

“The hardest part is fundraising. We didn’t exactly choose the best time in terms of the general economy of the country to be raising money,” says Meg Wormley, with a chuckle. “That is what slowed down the project. If it hadn’t been for lack of funds, the library would have been open sooner.”

“We broke ground on the construction site in March of 2009,” says Ms. Wormley, “but we were slowed down because we still needed to raise more money to pay the bills and get construction done. Our initial fundraising goal was $1.8 million, with a total building cost of a little over $3 million. Almost all of it has been spent, with some things such as paving of a patio and other outside improvements to be completed next spring.”

But she says the project really got lucky when the board choose a contractor who not only turned out a great result, but along the way put community before checkbook. “We’re very, very grateful to George Lagonia, the construction manager, because he kept working even when we couldn’t pay our bills on time. Another builder might have stopped work, but he did not.”

The funds to construct the new library came from a mix of private donations, small gifts, federal, state and foundation grants, and bank loans. No local tax money was used to build the library.

“Of the money that has been raised so far, at this point almost $1.4 million came from individuals and families who are residents of this area either fulltime or part-time or who have other connections here,” Ms. Wormley says. “Nothing like this has ever been done in this community before. About 550 people have made individual contributions at this point and we are hoping over the next month or two that many more people will want to be a part of this effort.”

Donations are tax-deductible because the library is a non-profit organization.

While the new structure is an ambitious project, Ms. Meg Wormley says it is not extravagant. “The board was building a building that will serve the towns of Ancram, Copake and Hillsdale for hopefully another 100 years. The last one served for 85 years. It could have been just a box, but the board felt that the people deserved something better, a building that really can become the intellectual heart of the community.”

The new library includes a community room, where the library plans to show adult and children’s film series, and offer English language and computer literacy programs, as well as performances, art exhibits, and after school and pre-school programs. The community room can be closed off from the rest of the library so the room can be available to community groups even when the library is not open. There is also a conference room for smaller groups.

The library is also designed to be what Ms. Wormley calls a connectivity hub for computer access. Currently many people in the area do not have higher-speed Internet access or any access at all at home, but they can get it at the library. There library will continue to offer access to computers and will provide a wireless network for people who wish to work on their own computers.

But all the new uses and functions will continue to be supported by a staff of only one full-time employee, Library Director Carol Briggs, and two part-time workers, with many library activities staffed by a cadre of local dedicated volunteers Ms. Briggs has called “invaluable.” During the transition, the old library was closed for only the past two weeks to allow for transfer of books and materials by those volunteers before the new library opens Saturday.

Emily Bennison was recently hired as youth services and program coordinator. “She is already putting together a very busy schedule of events for kids, tweens, and teens that will be launching this Saturday at our opening,” Ms. Wormley says.

Financing is also in transition as new fund-raising continues. The library has loans from the Bank of Greene County, and the library’s goal is to raise close to $300,000 to reduce the debt have enough money to make improvements in the future.

One of those improvements will be the installation of a planned geo-thermal heating and cooling system. That allows the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) to certify the new building’s energy efficiency, making the library eligible for a one-time energy efficiency subsidy to reimburse some construction costs.

The library board hopes the energy efficiency of the building will reduce operating expenses, although it has to get up and running before it can calculate exactly how much less this library will spend on heating and air conditioning. The board also expects to have lower maintenance costs because the building is new.

Library opening festivities begin at 11 a.m. Saturday with an official ribbon cutting and continue with afternoon activities for families. At 6 p.m. a series of live performances will include jazz, classic show tunes, and even Shakespearean drama.

Now about that Big Green Chair out front. It’s a sculpture donated to the library, aptly entitled Green Chair, by local artist Leon Smith, whose other work is also being exhibited at the new Roeliff Jansen Community Library, along with memorabilia celebrating famous American author James Agee, who was a Hillsdale resident. 

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