In July, 2012 a ribbon cutting ceremony was held celebrating the opening of the Wright Family Children’s Center as well as the completion of infrastructure and cosmetic improvements to the Central building of the Schenectady County Public Library. The process the SCPL Board of Trustees implemented extended over many years; but in the end, a satisfying project was completed providing a brighter space for patrons to use and enjoy as well as a modern children’s area of 6800 square feel.
In the 1990’s the Trustees embarked on a study centered around the future direction of the Central Library. A RFP was written to employ an architect and planning service to design a master plan. The awarded firm created a blueprint while a consultant conducted a usage study, A document was compiled making recommendations for the expansion; the Board began moving forward toward the goal of updating the library.
Knowing that some sort of construction would ultimately be done, fund raising began. Under the direction of Esther Swanker, a widely publicized fund raising campaign was begun for seed money. In all about $1.5 million was gathered from various sources including significant as well as smaller donations from individuals and family groups. The largest portion of this money came from The Wright Family Foundation and The Schenectady Foundation.
Community public meetings were held to gather input. Since the library is supported by Schenectady County government, the County Legislature also needed to be on board. Staff and Director Andy Kulmatiski moved ahead with another RFP for architectural services to begin the planning stages for the expansion using all the information and data gathered by the study and outside input. As with any construction project, obstacles needed to be addressed especially reaching consensus on the actual design, managing the construction while continuing programming and services, managing construction crews themselves to ensure the proper work was being done given the condition of the existing structure.
At one point the project became stalled for 1.5 years. The library moved forward as the infrastructure of the existing building needed attention. New York State Construction grants were acquired to replace the heating system, abate asbestos in addition to other needed updates. These ultimately would have been done in the expansion project. Finally a new local architect was hired and consensus was reached on a design. Once this happened the project moved along to completion.
Lessons can always be learned from such undertakings. Ours centered around getting the stakeholders on board right from the beginning offering input and ownership. Use local architects, contractors, and engineers if possible. Having a close connection meant fewer obstacles once the project began. The architect was able to be on site daily checking progress, and the director was able to call in an expert whenever a major question arose. A construction engineer also proved invaluable – one familiar with the infrastructure and issues within the existing structure thus bringing to fruition the facility we are using today.