Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Deja Vu All Over Again

Two weeks ago, on Wednesday, March 9, the Trustees of the Hudson Area Library held their annual meeting. At the meeting, the president of the HAL Board, Theresa Parsons, presented her report for the year 2010, which reviewed the goals set for 2010 and set new goals for 2011. The last two goals for 2011 are of particular interest: 
  • Begin in earnest the process of exploring within the City of Hudson, financially viable alternatives to remaining at 400 State Street.
  • If warranted by events, be in conversation with interested individuals or organizations regarding alternative uses for 400 State.
Is finding a new home to become a decennial event for the library?

Back in 2003-2004, the library board embarked in earnest on a similar search, motivated by the real possibility that the Hudson City School District, then the owner of 400 State Street, might evict its nonpaying tenant at any time.

The building and all the land around it (on which John L. Edwards Elementary School was built) had been given to the school district in 1958 when the orphanage, which had been operated there since 1881, closed. One of the conditions of the gift was that a library for children be maintained in the building, and in 1959, the Hudson Area Library, serving children and adults, was established there. At one time, HCSD had its district offices on the second floor of 400 State Street, but by the early years of this century, HCSD had removed all of its offices from the building and was wondering what to do with an architectural white elephant that school officials had never cared much about and no longer wanted.

An ad hoc committee of the library board worked quietly and diligently for months, identifying possible sites, making inquiries, exploring feasibility, but as the time to make a decision drew closer, quiet diligence turned into vocal angst and passion. There was a well-attended public meeting at John L. Edwards at which most of the community members present argued eloquently and ardently for the library to stay in its historic building. Although public sentiment seemed to favor 400 State Street, two alternatives were seriously considered: 98 Green Street, the former car dealership that now houses the medical offices of Ibrahim Rabadi; and 618 Warren Street, now Neven & Neven Moderne, which at the time was the location of the Finnish Line. Such was the support on the board for relocating the library to a pair of storefronts in the 600 block of Warren Street that it might have happened had the library been able to come up with the purchase price. 

When the chance to buy 618 Warren Street was lost, the library board decided to do what some of their number had wanted to do all along: buy 400 State Street from the school district. Some members of the community believed at the time (and still do) that, given the conditions of the original gift in 1958, HCSD should have given the building to the library as it had been given to them, but HCSD's legal obligation to do so wasn't clear. There were two documents connected to the transfer of the property in 1958. The first listed a number of stipulations attached to the gift, among them that a library for children be established and maintained in the building; a second and subsequent document--the one that actually conveyed the property--included only two of the stipulations, and the one about the library wasn't one of them. Since no document could be found that linked the two or explained their relationship to one another, the Board of Education took the position that if the library wanted the building, they would have to buy it at market value and the sale would have to be approved in a referendum.

Arriving at a price required some negotiation. The library had an appraisal, commissioned by Historic Hudson, that set the value of the building at $150,000. HCSD commissioned its own appraisal, which determined the value of the building to be $450,000. In the end, the price was set midway between the two appraisals at $300,000.

How the library got $300,000 to buy its building is a uniquely Hudson story. The City of Hudson had some leftover HUD money--money that had been awarded to redevelopment projects in the city but returned when the recipients decided they didn't want to use their buildings in the way required by HUD after all. Mayor Scalera, who had originally encouraged the library to relocate to 98 Green Street, suggested that this leftover HUD money might be used to buy 400 State Street for the library. It was reported at the time that a HUD official, on a visit to Hudson from Buffalo, stood on Fourth Street next to the post office with Mayor Scalera, looked to the left at the Columbia County courthouse and to the right at 400 State Street, was struck by the balance--both architectural and symbolic--between the two buildings anchoring either end of the street, and approved, on the spot, the use of HUD money to enable the library to purchase its building.

With the money in place, the library had one more hurdle: a school district referendum. The proposal to sell 400 State Street had to be approved by the voters in the Hudson City School District. The campaign to "Let the Library Buy Its Building" pulled out all the stops, and, as a result, the voter turnout for the school district election that year was the highest ever. The vote was 3 to 1 in favor of selling the building to the library. Unfortunately, many of the voters who came out to vote yes for the library voted no on the school budget, and that year the budget was rejected. 

So in the summer of 2005, the Hudson Area Library bought 400 State Street for $300,000 using HUD money. The way the deal was structured, Hudson Community Development and Planning Agency (HCDPA) gave the library a 100 percent mortgage on the building--a mortgage the library would never have to pay off so long as it continued to own the building and use it as a library.

The acquisition of 400 State Street was celebrated as a victory for preservation in Hudson. The Historic Preservation Commission designated it a local landmark. The Preservation League of New York State named it one of the Seven to Save for 2005. The NYS Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation recommended it for individual listing in the National Register of Historic Places. The library board hired architects, initiated a capital campaign, and embarked on an ambitious plan to restore the building. As a first phase of the plan, the building got a new roof and the fanlight, long missing, was replicated and reinstated. 

Photograph by Willam Krattinger

Unfortunately the capital campaign foundered. An EPF grant for $250,000 awarded in 2007 to begin the masonry repair couldn't be matched. New leadership at the library had issues with the architects overseeing the restoration. The restoration efforts were suspended, the architects dismissed, and people who had made five-year pledges to the capital campaign were released from their commitments. Now the library board is looking for another building and for someone else to take possession of what many believe is Hudson's most significant historic building.   

1 comment:

  1. Carole,

    I'm so sorry to hear this. We were making so much good progress. Please, let's finish the restoration -- and keep the library where it is.