Will house fins spoil Rensselaer County’s rural library?


SCHAGHTICOKE – The future of the Diver Library is clear: unless something is done to stabilize the building, it will end up in pieces at the bottom of Electric Lake.

The only chance to avert that fate comes on August 22, when the librarians plan to go to an auction to buy the property next door.

They may have to outbid hungry house flippers in the bloated real estate world. But while there are many vacant two-family homes in the world, there is only one property that the Arvilla E. Diver Memorial Library can save. The librarians hope that the other bidders will decide to hold this one auction.

They had already raised enough money to cover the $70,000 estimate through private and government grants.

“But at auction it could go for anything. If you look at Zillow, it costs $150,000,” said library director Nicholas Matulis. “Me and the CEO don’t sleep.”

They are now raising funds online to prepare for a hot auction.

“Now we turn to the community — let’s not miss out on a few thousand dollars,” he said.

The reason the library needs the adjacent lot is because that’s where the bedrock starts.

The 4,000 square foot library is located at the overlook above Electric Lake. The foundation is crumbling because it doesn’t stand on bedrock. If engineers could construct a new foundation on the property next door, they could move the existing library about 75 feet and place it on more stable ground.

“There’s bedrock nearby, we’re just not sitting on it,” he said. “We’re nearby. We don’t have to haul it far, but we have to haul it.”

It costs an estimated $450,000.

While it might cost about the same simply to buy a building elsewhere, the library was established by trust in Alexander Diver’s will and named in honor of his wife.

This trust is clear: the library must remain in Diver’s house. If it stays, it will receive annual funding from the Trust. But only if it stays in the building.

A relocation of the building would be permissible. What’s frustrating, however, is that the Trust has plenty of money to buy the property next door.

“We have a trust – it’s just locked tight. We have a quarter million dollar trust,” Matulis said. “We tried to break in there and it just seems unassailable.”

Numerous attorneys agree that there is no way to “break into” the trust and get an additional $100,000 or so.

“If we could talk to Mr. Diver now that the fate of his library is in jeopardy, I would be 100 percent confident that he would say yes and give them all the money they need,” he said.

But since he died in 1938, that’s not going to happen.

The library also tried to get bank loans, but the banks said a part-time library on a budget of $60,000 a year could not afford to pay back a loan.

The library is unique among modern facilities as the librarian lives upstairs. The second floor is a three-bedroom apartment where Matulis and his wife live with their four-year-old son. The couple conducts 150 library programs a year and runs the library only with the help of Matulis’ mother. The library’s $60,000 budget includes all salaries. He has been working there for 10 years.

Matulis, a musician, runs an eight-week songwriting program each summer, culminating in a professional band playing the songs for a professional record label. The entire record is played on the radio, with introductions by each author.

His wife currently directs an art installation with teenagers.

“Right now they are building an installation in our non-fiction room overlooking the lake. It’s an underwater scene of what the library would look like if it were to fall into the lake…if it just went under and submerged,” he said.

Since the library is also their home, they invite people in as if they were family.

“Our philosophy is that we can’t match the quantity aspect of many of these multimillion-dollar budget libraries, but we believe we can match — and in many cases exceed — the quality,” he said. “The way we connect to our community is just different. I don’t think there is a library out there that can cultivate deeper relationships. You can ask us for things you wouldn’t ask for… We really care about them.”

The library was founded in 1939. But for at least 30 years it had been clear that erosion would eventually eat away at the ground beneath the building. The only solution is to go further to the bedrock.

Hoping to gather a crowd at the auction, library supporters are wearing T-shirts that say “Save Our Library” on the front – and maybe “Don’t be an idiot” on the back to discourage outrageous bids. It reminds Matulis of times in the past when farmers had their land foreclosed on, but the rest of the community refused to bid so the farmers got it back.

“There is community precedent,” Matulis said. “This is it. This is our only chance.”


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