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Woodstock library sweats through push to replace climate-control system

  • With fans running and shades closed, Susan Genauer, left, and Beverly Glass, both of Cherry Hill, N.J., said they were a little cooler than being outside at the Norman Williams Public Library in Woodstock, Vt., on Wednesday, July 10, 2019. The women travel to Vermont with their spouses to ski in the winter and hike in the summer. The climate-control system at the library is not working. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to

  • Danelle Sims, adult services librarian, fans herself at the the Norman Williams Public Library in Woodstock, Vt., on Wednesday, July 10, 2019. The climate-control system at the library is not working. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 7/10/2019 10:10:23 PM
Modified: 7/10/2019 10:10:14 PM

WOODSTOCK — Bicycling through Woodstock village Wednesday afternoon, Jane Olds expected to find relief from the pounding sun and rising humidity during her stop at the Norman Williams Public Library.

But perusing the video section on the main floor, she noticed little difference from the temperature outside, where thermometers showed 87 degrees in the sun.

“I wondered, ‘What happened to the air-conditioning?’ ” Olds said.

Quite a few regular patrons and out-of-town visitors have been asking that very question. The answer? The entire climate-control system in the 136-year-old building needs replacing, a project library leaders and boosters expect to cost around $500,000.

The first hint came over the winter, when “the heating was uneven,” Ron Miller, president of the library’s Board of Trustees said Wednesday morning. “One of the two units that distributes heat completely blinked out, so we were left with half of the capacity. It wasn’t a severe problem, but it clearly wasn’t working well.”

Before long, the contractor working on the heating system declared that the air-conditioning probably wouldn’t work well, if at all — and that, at any rate, annual patch-ups weren’t going to do the job for much longer.

The diagnosis, and the $500,000 estimate, prompted trustees to start quietly approaching area foundations and past major donors for help. Their support, plus the donations that came in after a capital campaign was announced in June, so far has pushed the total past the halfway mark, library Executive Director Amanda Merk said. Merk estimated that some 75,000 people come through the library every year, up from between 50,000 and 60,000 in the earlier part of the current decade.

The sooner the community at large pushes the campaign over the top, the sooner the project can be completed, preferably by September or October, Miller said.

In the meantime, the library staff and its volunteers are making do. For patrons who mind the heat, the library is home-delivering books, CDs, DVDs magazines and other materials; arrangements can be made by emailing Merk at or calling 802-457-2295 and asking for the librarian on duty.

To supplement the standing fans located around the interior, two friends of the library donated two upright room air-conditioners, one of which a volunteer was connecting to a window in the main-floor audiovisual room on Wednesday.

“It’ll be nice today to have those hooked up,” adult-services librarian Danelle Sims said at the front desk. “So far, patrons have been very understanding.”

Meanwhile, some employees whose offices are on the fourth level, above the mezzanine, have been working in the children’s room in the basement, the one cool part of the library.

“I had to relocate people,” Merk said. “We need to keep people safe and comfortable.”

If the weather remains toasty going into the Bookstock literary festival over the last weekend of July, Merk said, “might have to ad-lib and be creative,” possibly moving presenters into the basement, too.

Merk said the library, acclaimed as one of the most beautiful in the country, has been paying the price for its soaring cathedral ceiling above the mezzanine level.

“Our architecture is our greatest asset and our biggest curse,” she said. “The heat rises up there and gets trapped, and it makes it hard to heat the space in winter.”

Library trustees are taking the hint.

“It’s been hard, but we’re also excited about the opportunity to replace a very inefficient, fossil fuel-based system with much more efficient equipment,” Green said. “We’re definitely going to be more green.”

Until then, the staff continues to improvise, as they did while hosting the staff of the Vermont Standard last summer, after fire destroyed the weekly newspaper’s offices and newsroom.

“We’re used to that Hurricane Irene mentality of everybody pitching in,” Merk said. “It’s business as usual here.”

To learn more about the climate-control replacement project or to make a donation, visit

David Corriveau can be reached at and at 603-727-3304.

Valley News

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