Officials from the Stillwater Public Library are gauging the village’s interest in acquiring their historic building as plans move forward to relocate the library at a new and larger facility across town.
Instead of selling the building to a private developer, library officials told the Village Board of Trustees at its Sept. 15 meeting that they’d like to keep the former St. John’s Episcopal Church where the library has been housed for more than 60 years “a public servant” like it has been since it was built in 1874.
“The community has a feeling for that building and as a community we don’t want to lose it,” said Library Trustee John Butler, head of the new library planning committee.
The library first opened in 1949 in a one-room cabin in the center of the Village of Stillwater. Ten years later, the library purchased the former St. John’s Episcopal Church for $500 and moved it there. Originally the Stillwater Free Library, residents of the Stillwater Central School District voted in 2016 to create a taxing district and become the Stillwater Public Library.
Referring to the building on its website as the “loveable church,” library officials sent a letter to the village recently asking if the board had any interest in acquiring the building for continued public use. Further discussions were held at the September meeting involving the Village Board, Library Trustee Butler, Library Board of Trustees President Emily Nadler and Library Director Sara Kipp.
At that meeting, Kipp said library officials are in discussions to purchase the Stillwater Fiber Mill at 712 Hudson Ave. as the new library site. The building now houses apartments. Kipp did not say how much the purchase price would be but the Zillow website estimates its value at $176,675. Because it is now a public library, any purchase would have to be approved by Stillwater voters at a public referendum.
“In the end the voters will have the say in what happens,” Butler said.
Library officials have been discussing a move to a larger space for a few years now. The library needs more square footage for educational activities, meetings and community events. At one point, Library Trustees considered building a 4,500-square-foot addition onto the church but architects determined it would not be a cost effective project, Kipp said.
“The (church) building is not sustainable for the future of the library,” Butler said. “We have truly outgrown that space and the library is success in spite of that. Our collection (of books and other library materials) is weighing the building down.”
Stillwater Public Library visits have increased nearly four times over the last 16 years, Kipp said, from about 5,700 in 2004 to about 27,000 in 2019. Library programs held and attended have grown 10 times over the same time period. A community survey conducted in October 2019 showed 85 percent of respondents were in favor of building a new library or purchasing a larger building and renovating it.
If a library move to a new site is approved, Mayor Judith Wood-Shaw said the village would be “very interested” in the library church building to potentially use as a larger Village Hall. Village Hall is part of the fire department building which needs about $85,000 in structural improvements. The village is studying building a new firehouse rather than renovating the current one and the village offices. How the village would acquire the church from the library is unclear.
“I think there’s a lot of possibility there,” said Trustee Patrick Nelson, who like most village trustees were warm to the idea. Trustee John Basile was not.
“I recommend you get the (church) building appraised,” said Basile, who favored library officials selling the church and putting the profits toward the purchase of the mill for the new library. “I’m speaking as a village taxpayer. I think it’s the right thing to do.”
“We are all Stillwater taxpayers here,” answered Library Director Kipp, “and we want what’s best for the community.”
The library is seeking grants and holding fundraisers to keep the cost of moving to a new building as low as possible, the group said. The library is now selling commemorative bricks that would display personal messages from the purchasers. The bricks, which cost $250 (tax deductible), would be used to line the walls in the library’s new public use community room.
According to the library website in a section entitled Building for the Future, the library has raised about $114,000 through fundraisers thus far. “We are very proud of our efforts and the support everyone has shown,” the website message states. “A project of this magnitude costs a public entity such as ourselves far more than it would an individual. We need all the help we can get so the final amount requested of the public is actually an amount they can (and would) support.”