Friday, June 10, 2011

The Fine Art of Abandoning Goals

Jamie Larson reports in today's Register-Star that the library board, after getting assurance that HCDPA (Hudson Community Development and Planning Agency) would take possession of the building when the library abandoned it thus releasing the library from any obligation to repay the $300,000 used to buy it, has now decided to put the building on the market for $450,000 to see what it will fetch: "Library hits the market for $450,000." 

For those who saw in the combination of a public library--perhaps the most democratic of American institutions--and a historic building that had provided asylum of one sort or another to the people of Hudson for the better part of two centuries a synergy with the power to ennoble Hudson's under-appreciated library and elevate its mission, the library board's current course is profoundly disappointing. Of course, achieving such a lofty goal requires passion and commitment, not to mention tenacity and perseverance, so it's not hard to understand why the current board has convinced itself that giving up on that goal is the necessary and even the responsible thing to do. But it wasn't always so.  

In April 2008, the library celebrated, with symbolic ceremony, the installation of the new fanlight, reproduced from historic images of the building. Dignitaries gathered for the unveiling, including Senator Stephen Saland and Assemblyman Marc Molinaro. As required for an unveiling, the ceremony began with the fanlight covered by a piece of canvas on which Chelle Mayer had painted a sunburst. The significance of the sunburst was explained by Dr. Norman A. Posner, then president of the library board, in his comments that day:         
For decades—certainly for as long as anyone here can remember—the fanlight in the central pediment of this venerable building has been missing and the gap in the stone filled with a piece of plywood painted black. This rather bleak black shape was what the eye was drawn to as you approached the library from the south along Fourth Street, and it stood as a symbol of the disregard and neglect that this great building has suffered in the most recent quarter of its long history. But the missing fanlight had a somewhat different effect on longtime library trustee Bill Cranna, who used to teach history in the corner room on the second floor of the building across the street when it was the junior high school. Bill was not able to be here today to tell the story himself, so with his permission, I will tell it for him.

Contemplating the missing fanlight, Bill was reminded of an anecdote from American history. The setting was Philadelphia in 1787—two years after the founding of Hudson and only thirty years before this building was built. The scene was the Second Continental Congress, convened to write the Constitution of the United States. Throughout the lengthy proceedings, President George Washington was seated in a high-backed chair, which featured a carved ornament found in many examples of colonial American furniture: a sunburst, not unlike the one you see now in the central pediment of the library.

Through the tempestuous weeks of argument and debate, as disparate factions representing the interests of the thirteen original colonies struggled to forge the framework of a new nation, Benjamin Franklin contemplated the emblem that adorned the back of Washington’s chair. At the conclusion of the sessions, when the document had been crafted, signed, and declared “little short of a miracle” by Washington himself, Franklin drew the attention of the delegates to the emblem of the sun on the back of Washington’s chair and told them: “I have often in the course of the session, and the vicissitudes of my hopes and fears as to its issue, looked at that sun behind the President without being able to tell whether it was rising or setting. But now at length I have the happiness to know that it is a rising and not a setting sun.”

Almost three years ago, the library board purchased this building, with the help of Mayor Richard Scalera, and became the stewards of this important piece of Hudson’s architectural and cultural history. Almost two years ago, the library board announced with celebration that they had hired an architect, Walter Sedovic, to plan and oversee the restoration. Still today the building remains virtually unchanged, with few visible signs of improvement. Seeing it, one might well wonder, as Franklin did about the country, if the library is a rising sun or a setting sun.
As we reveal what is concealed by the brilliant sun emblem, we hope that you and all the citizens of Hudson, Greenport, and the surrounding area will see it as a rising sun, a sign that brighter days are ahead for the Hudson Area Library and for this beloved historic building.
At the end of Posner's speech, the sunburst was dropped to reveal the new fanlight. Pretty inspiring stuff, one would think, but apparently not. The lofty goals of the library seem never to have captured the imagination of the community and certainly not the imaginations of those members of the community who make up today's board.   

That day in April seems very long ago now. Judge Cranna, whose erudite musings about the missing fanlight were the inspiration for the unveiling ceremony, died in January. Dr. Posner, the last advocate for staying in the building still on the library board, resigned in March, his final annual meeting being the one at which Theresa Parsons announced her intention to "begin in earnest the process of exploring . . . financially viable alternatives to remaining at 400 State Street." The sunburst is still in the library, affixed to the wall in a second-floor hallway, along with a copy of the Register-Star article about the event, with the headline "A new day is dawning for Hudson library." 

One wonders if the board plans to take this souvenir with them to their new location or leave it behind for the new owner. Maybe they'll just throw it away.


  1. This town would rather shoot itself in the foot than do the right thing for the community.

  2. What a thoughtless lazy bunch. I thought I's seen everything but here's another Hudson head scratcher....

  3. What possible positive goal can be gained by seeling? That library is an essential resource beyond the gold mine of literature.
    Hudson is an incredibly diverse little place and the library is a spot where diverse slices go to meet, take work shops, access the computer etc... and so close and accessible by students.
    After the monies gained in the sale are spent the effects on the community will fester as there is one less positive place for Hudson kids to go. Is it a loss Hudson can afford?

  4. The library foundation may not have had the money to maintain the building. I believe that people who would have liked to stay in the current building decided not to because they did not have the ongoing maintenance budget to pay for heat and upkeep.

    Rather than blaming well meaning people I would focus on the funding. Somewhere someone should have spent money to make the building feasible for the library.

    Anyway, it is too bad. I also wish the integration of the school behind it and the library had taken into account the strong design of the town as a whole. Now, that old bit of bad planning will be a problem for any new owner of the library building.

    Is there no institution that would like to come to town? Maybe a museum or a college or something? The building is institutional...

  5. Yes, Peter, I can understand your saying it’s a sad day. I can understand the special place that 400 State Street holds for you personally and for many others who have walked through its front doors and found books for their children or for themselves, programs that benefit the community and in recent years, computer access. And with the proposed move, that special library-to-building connection will cease to exist except in the collective memories of the community. Yes, the building has a pull; it also has its liabilities. It interferes with the Library Board’s responsibility to fulfill the library’s stated mission. We are not contemplating this move because it’s the easy thing to do. We’re planning it because it’s the right thing to do. If you haven’t been there already, I’d like to suggest that you visit the library’s website and read through the FAQ posting. It might shed some light on the compelling issues we face.

    Zeke.boy2, you know not of what you speak. I would challenge anyone to find a more thoughtful, less lazy group of men and women dedicated to their organization’s mission. These volunteers give of their time. They give of their talent, and each, according to their means, their financial support. So, what have they done, you might ask. As it turns out, a great deal.

    Against the “been-there, tried-that, you’ll-never-get-it” advice of some prior trustees, this board successfully launched a campaign to get out the vote, producing solid support for the library and an increase in funding from $48,000 to $120,000. The result: a financial lifeline and some desperately needed breathing space. When the Library took over the building from the school district in 2005, they also took over responsibility for its upkeep and much deferred maintenance. Over the next three years, the endowment and emergency funds were all but obliterated, mainly by deficits incurred in fulfilling that responsibility.

    At the time the architects were hired in 2008 to achieve the “lofty goal” Gossips refers to, it was at an estimated cost of $8.75 million (that estimate would later be increased). Their first project was the fan window. Their second undertaking, replacement of the roof and gutters. At the end of the day, the roof could not be completely replaced because of overruns and higher than expected fees. The Library was forced to request a bridge loan from the Columbia County Economic Development Committee (CEDC) at the time of the construction. It was left to this Board to find the funds to release us from this obligation to the CEDC and final payment of $115,000 was made just this past autumn.

    With a current year operating budget of just over $201,500 (down from last year’s), and only one fulltime employee, the library has extended its hours, added programs and done whatever possible within its means to provide a more welcoming and safe environment. Peaceful shades, you’re absolutely right. The library is an essential resource – it is not a loss that Hudson can afford. With the ongoing generosity of donors, we can and will provide quality library services to the children and others who come to us. We cannot continue doing so if we remain at 400 State.
    Theresa Parsons

  6. Time to stop bemoaning the past. The various members of the Library Board, past and present, have acted in good faith and with considerable vigor to meet the dual needs of the building and the library. Some significant steps were taken to preserve the building (e.g. new roof, boiler, etc.). But funds to even begin substantial preservation and renovation work have never materialized.

    That is the past. Like much of the past, this focus is shielding you from the present. You now have the opportunity to find the capital required to buy 400 State St. and turn it into the building you wish. If you truly think that the building can be restored or renovated for some achievable budget, buying the building should be your first step. As the saying goes in the crass world of the present, "Time to put your money where your mouth is."

    Mark Orton