Fish, fire, and books: Expanded, updated library set to open

The Enterprise — Michael Koff

Timothy Wiles, director of the library, leans on a hand-hewn ceiling beam, which he rescued from the 1795 Fuller’s Tavern, since torn down, to become a mantel for a gas fireplace in the library.

GUILDERLAND — The Guilderland Public Library is poised to open on Sept. 27, more than 10 months ahead of schedule and about a quarter of a million dollars under budget, said the library’s director, Timothy Wiles.

The building has 20 percent more space than when it was constructed in 1992.

“Literally every inch of the space is transformed in some way,” said Wiles, noting a large part of that is cosmetic since the library has all new carpets, furniture, and paint.

“We’re so thankful to people for their patience,” Wiles said on Monday.

The progress was rapid because, in a controversial move, the library building was not open to the public during much of the construction. Although a promise had been made to keep the building open, the pandemic, with its restrictions, ultimately changed that.

The library staff initiated curb-side pick-up for materials and changed programs so that they were held virtually rather than in person.

The project was estimated at $8.3 million and the public approved a bond issue of $6.9 million with library savings making up the difference.

The library recently learned that it received a total of $131,552 for its parking-lot reconstruction through the State Education Department’s library construction funds.

Wiles said the library was sure it would get $106,000 of the money it had applied for but more was then awarded because other libraries’ projects had been scaled back or fallen by the wayside.

In the spring, Wiles had anticipated a grand re-opening but that has been jettisoned for now because of the resurgence of COVID-19 caused by the Delta variant.

 “It does kind of stink,” said Wiles of having to postpone the celebration.

Starting at 9:30 a.m. on Sept. 27, thirty patrons at a time will be allowed to browse in the library. Staff and volunteers will be at the door, handing out masks and maps of the new layout.

The project has added 20,000 square feet that includes a youth activity room and eventually a café — for the time being, vending machines may be installed in the café space.

The library had three responses to its request for proposals. A restaurant business couldn’t find enough help; an association serving blind people said the hours were too long; and the Warren, Washington, Albany Counties ARC may yet be a possibility to run the café although the organization, which serves people with developmental disabilities, has been unable to keep appointments, Wiles said.

Because of the pandemic, the building was redesigned to allow for social distancing so people can safely congregate. Computers at tables, for example, are six feet apart, or have plexiglass between them.

All the shelving in the main reading room will be on wheels so it can be quickly cleared for gatherings of 300 to 400 people under the skylights. It used to take a day and a half to clear the space and now prep and cleanup will each be done in an hour, Wiles said.

The toddler play space has a heated floor; the library has a third public meeting room, more study rooms and five gender-neutral bathrooms.

It is anticipated the building will have 20 percent lower energy costs because of new efficiencies.



Wiles is excited about features that will be like “a magnet that brings in people.”

One of those attractions is a 540-gallon fish tank — an idea Wiles came up with from visiting a library in Michigan where his late brother lived, which was especially popular with children in his family.

The Guilderland tank is located between an area for kids, where the cabinetry is colorful, and an area for adults, where the look is more subdued. “It serves as a window,” Wiles said of the tank.

He anticipates that, while adults may find it relaxing, kids will find it exciting to look at the fish: angelfish, bala shark, tetras, silver dollars, and blood parrots among other species.

“Every time the poor parents make a trip down Western Avenue, the kids will clamor to see the fish,” said Wiles.

Another attraction is a two-sided natural-gas fireplace. “It’s not to enhance our heating but for relaxation,” said Wiles.

The architect for the project, Paul Mays, observed, when visiting the library, “You could have been anywhere … There was nothing that told you you were in Guilderland,” recalled Wiles.

“So we decided to Guilderland it up,” he said.

Wiles had recalled that, when the historic Fuller’s Tavern, built in 1795 at the corner of Fuller Road and Route 20, was torn down in 2017, which he said caused some “consternation,” he saw wood from the structure on the front lawn.

Wiles asked to buy some for a fireplace in his own home and then asked for a donation for the library. Nick Ragone obliged.

One side of the fireplace will have an original mantel from Fuller’s Tavern and the other side will have a repurposed hand-hewn ceiling beam from the house as a mantel.

“There’s an empty wall to hang the door from the Crounse House,” said Wiles. “Tim Rau harvested the door on our behalf.”

The house had been built in 1833 by Frederick Crounse, Altamont’s first doctor, who lived and practiced there for six decades. He also helped the Helderberg tenant farmers during the Anti-Rent Wars when they rebelled against the feudal patroon system. During the Civil War, the 134th regiment camped in front of the house, as Dr. Crounse stayed up all night, helping the regiment doctor with the sick and wounded soldiers.

The Doctor Crounse House has been jointly owned by the village of Altamont and the town of Guilderland since 2006. The municipalities together paid $40,000 in back taxes to Albany County to purchase the Federal-era single-family home but, despite being awarded a grant to fix it, let it deteriorate until they demolished it this year.

Wiles concluded with a message for the public, “Come back in and enjoy the library.

He then added a few parting puns.

Referencing the library’s cow statue, Greufus — an historic icon itself since it once stood atop Greulich’s Market in Guilderland — Wiles said of the library, “We’re moo and improved.”

He also said, “On Sept. 27, we’ll be o-fish-ally open.”

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