An interview with Tim Strong, author of Whippoorwill Chronicles
Hello, once again, our beloved People of PPL,
Continuing on a theme of PPL on the Outside, here we give you my interview with Tim Strong, owner of Birch Bark Books in Parishville, about his debut novel Whippoorwill Chronicles. I’ve done a few interviews with authors on Zoom, but this time we found ourselves in a situation where that wasn’t an option. If you have been to Birch Bark Books, you know it is a place that is a seeming place of no technology and it is marvelous! So, thankfully we have the GoPros we were granted and wrote about in my previous blog about our PPL on the Outside Program. My PPL on the Outside video cohort, Erin Carberry, and I mounted a GoPro in my car and took the show on the road and interviewed Tim from the comfort of his store’s from desk where we were heated by his wood stove on a day the store was closed.
Tim gives a great interview. His novel and its background are both great stories. So, sit back and enjoy the conversation.
Adult Program Coordinator William Eckert here with you, again.
It’s been a little while since I’ve sat down to write to you all to share some inside-the-library perspective and what’s going on here. Feel good in knowing that we have been working on finalizing a few projects through our new PPL on the Outside Program, a program I started when I was hired in June and have been working on with my colleague and cohort, Erin Carberry, who has helped me in evolving the program. We haven’t talked too much about the program and Erin’s role in it, so here we go!
PPL on the Outside is funded by the Northern NY Library Network through the Network’s Action Grant. As with any successful community project, we rely heavily on community partners like Dr. Blair Madore of the Adirondack Mountain Club’s Laurentian Chapter, who has led hikes and snowshoeing trips, Potsdam Rec Department Director Trey Smutz, who has provided equipment free of charge to our patrons for programming, Mark Manske of Adirondack Raptors, the core of our Birds of Prey Program, and Maggie McKenna, Executive Director of SLAC Arts.
But it got us thinking, let’s apply for grant funding for some GoPros and have cameras that are not only more durable and meant for such outdoor activities, but would also have superior video quality.
In applying for the grant we wrote that, through PPL on the Outside, we wanted to go beyond our mission to “‘occupy a central and traditional role in our community to provide the tools, resources and techniques for literacy development, language skills acquisition, lifelong learning, recreation, and research,’ by creating video tours of the outdoors and interviews with wildlife experts and enthusiasts in the wild of the north country and Adirondacks, as well as recreational tours of the waterways and trail systems for activities like kayaking and snowshoeing.”
We love our patrons. We love our community. We want to continue reaching you. So we asked for the funding to help create the video blogs and short films about the area for PPL on the Outside, which we also hope to turn into activities inside the library. That funding application was met with great enthusiasm and we were awarded everything we asked for, affording us two GoPros, some equipment to go with it, and funding for a new MacBook Pro for Erin to use in the editing and piecing together of our videos.
Have I told you about Erin? Let me introduce PPL Library Aide Erin Carberry in more depth. She is so much more than her title states and has been playing a pivotal role in PPL on the Outside.
While I have been finding the people and stories, the programs and activities, and filming all the things that we have been wanting to share with you, it is Erin who has been putting them together in a cohesive form that makes my filming and interviews bearable to watch. I promise you don’t want to see how these videos would have looked if I had to try putting them together.
Erin came to PPL on July 5, 2019, having just relocated to the north country after graduating from Mount Holyoke. She told me that during her interview with Annie and Sarah she talked about her experience in film as well as her coursework in digital news and podcasts. Both Annie and Sarah told me that they kept that in mind and had hoped to use those skills at some point in the future.
That time is now.
A graduate of Tompkins Cortland Community College with an Associate of Arts in Screenwriting and the Graduate of Note from her program in 2015, and earning a Bachelor of Arts in Film and Media Studies from Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley, Massachusetts, where she graduated magna cum laude in 2019, it was her time in Mount Holyoke where Erin said she found her love of libraries while having worked as a student circulation assistant in both the main and music libraries on campus during her senior year.
As well as holding a BA in film, Erin made several short films for college courses, completing all steps of production and post-production herself. She also has written many papers, one of which she was chosen to present at the Five College Film and Media Studies Undergraduate Conference in March 2018. During her junior and senior years at Mount Holyoke, she also wrote semi-weekly film and television reviews for the student-run newspaper, the Mount Holyoke News.
So I think I have found my videos and programs in more than capable hands with Erin. But I don’t just rely on Erin to take the footage I capture and turn it into a digestible video. Often I ask her to accompany me on filming trips so that she can give me her perspective on what would be the best ways to capture an angle or what additional footage would work.
Erin and I were working on putting together the video clips from the Edgar Allen Poe reading series we did in October when I started to learn more about her film background. I asked her where her interest in film came from and why she pursued it as a degree.
I then learned storytelling was in her blood.
“It’s hard to say where my interest in film began. Both of my parents are writers, so storytelling was always something I was interested in as well,” she told me. “As a child, I was more drawn to movies and television than books. I fantasized about writing and producing my own shows when I grew up. Once I got to community college, my program required classes in analysis and production as well as writing.”
But during her time at Mount Holyoke, where she was initially most interested in production, she had her love of film rekindled due to a seminar on Film Melodrama and Horror and she switched her focus to American film history and genre.
“That doesn’t appear anywhere on my diploma or transcript, so it’s kind of just a fun fact. My favorite genres to study are screwball comedy, film noir, and melodrama,” she said. “I am especially interested in how societal and social movements affect films of their time, such as how screwball comedies parodied the widening class divide during the Great Depression.”
Writing is still something she loves to do, and although it is more of a hobby than something she would want to do professionally, there is still something of a writer’s eye that appears when she puts together our PPL on the Outside videos.
Erin said she always starts by watching all of the footage, even though in many cases only a small portion of it will appear in the final product. During the editing process, she said she tries to create a video that would interest her, hoping that will translate into interest from our patrons and viewers as well.
“This can mean adding background music, cutting more frequently, or putting in written text,” she said. “One skill I lean on a lot is covering awkward cuts or long, stagnant shots using B-roll, footage shot to act as filler.”
See? There’s the writer in her coming out.
“The storyteller in me tends to take over when organizing footage; I try to always communicate the story of the video as clearly as possible, even in something short like the renovation updates,” she said. “Film, and storytelling in general, is all about communication.”
We here at PPL hope that these stories speak to you and that you have been enjoying our PPL on the Outside Program and find greater pleasure knowing a bit more about Erin’s storytelling and film skills and how they apply to the creation of our videos. We look forward to seeking how it continues to evolve with new participants, with the reopening of the library, and with the ability of our all being able to spend time together again. We miss you all and if you have any ideas for what you would like to see more of or learn about through PPL on the Outside . . . or if you have any other program ideas, reach out to us. You can always email me at email@example.com.
Things are shaping up with the renovations of your beloved library including a later estimated reopening date of May.
As I sit here looking out over the library, contractors from Wilson Flooring of Ogdensburg are laying out the carpeting for the new children’s library and circulation desk. The carpeting has been one of several expected delays during the course of the renovation, including a large delay at the start. “We didn’t start the construction right away, to begin with, due to a wait on approval for projects and being closed for the pandemic,” Library Director Annie Davey said. “Then we had a delay because of funding issues with NYS.”
During downtime in the renovation, library staff has been working staggered hours to box thousands of books and empty the shelves that were then broken down and cleared from the main floor. We also had help from Library Board Member David Trithart, Will Trithart and Lee VanDewater who moved a large number of books to the second floor.
Architect Rebecca Weld, founder of Renew Architecture & Design, said she was looking at May as a completion date for Phase I and Phase II of the project. The work of staff and volunteers will add some time after Phase II is completed, to get everything back in order. Phase III of the renovations will not interfere with the reopening and daily operations of the library. The project grants were conceptualized in phases however it was always anticipated that projects would dovetail as they are completed, so the timing does not completely correlate with the funding structure.
Phase I, which included erecting a mezzanine, is complete and was done by Continental Construction of Gouverneur. Part of Phase II is in progress and will involve floor/ceiling, lobby, relocating circulation desk, and air conditioning. The HVAC part of Phase II has been awarded to Cornerstone Services of Norwood and will be the longest part of the work. Phase III is all related to staff areas (offices, kitchen, etc.) and has not been bid yet.
The library will reopen after Phase II, again, pandemic aside, and Phase III will be primarily behind the scenes. Staff may be displaced temporarily but we plan to work around it.
Phase III is expected to begin immediately after Phase II, or possibly overlapping with it.
So, although we always knew there would be changes in timing, right from the get-go, Annie has repeated the priority: We have one chance to get this right; let’s not rush it.
“It’s kind of my life philosophy,” she said. “It’s true though. In cooking, in library work, just be the gardener and let things grow with their own life, don’t get in the way of the magic.”
We’re getting there, folks, and we look forward to having you back on this side of the PPL walls with us!
Mark A. Manske, the founder, and owner of Adirondack Raptors Inc. is going to be sharing his years of work with, and knowledge of, hawks, falcons, owls, and other birds of prey with the Potsdam Public Library. He will also be talking about, and reading from, his series of books, Adventures with Stoney, in our new Birds of Prey Program.
While the library is closed this program will be a series of blogs and videos about the different birds Mark works with at his home and in the wild, as well as his book readings. Once we can reopen to the public, we will hold in-person discussions and Mark will be available in person, accompanied by his Eurasian Eagle Owl, Morley, and sign copies of his books.
As you will read below, Mark is a wonderfully enthusiastic storyteller. When he and I got together over the summer to talk about the program, he talked about how Adirondack Raptors got started. Mark revealed how he first came to love birds, carving the path to his future as a birder and educator, discussed some of his adventures trying to rescue and band birds for study, and took us for a virtual tour of his “Raptor Palace.”
Happy reading. We look forward to seeing you, Mark, AND Morley, here in the library when we reopen for in-person birds of prey programming,
PPL Adult Program Coordinator William Eckert
A BIT ABOUT MARK AND ADIRONDACK RAPTORS
Mark Manske started Adirondack Raptors Inc. in Dickinson Center, NY, in 2008, while he was still teaching at St. Lawrence Central High School, but had been working with birds of prey since 1984 when he was working with Francis and Frederick Hamerstrom — who he called his mentors — during his time in graduate school.
“I got very involved with them then, so when I came back to teaching I said, ‘Well, I am going to continue,’ and I got working with banding migrating birds of prey in the north country,” Mark said.
Mark said his earliest memory of loving birds came from a tale his mother told him about when he was in first grade.
“My mother thinks it is because when I was in first grade I couldn’t see the chalkboard in front of me in the classroom,” Mark recalled. “Then they figured out, by the end of the first grade, I needed glasses and so when I got glasses she said I was all of the sudden like, ‘oh, look at the birds! This is what you were talking about.’ She said, ‘you were so enthralled with them that I think that really stuck’ . . . Maybe she’s right? Maybe she’s right.”
But it was the birds of prey, specifically, that were “near and dear to my heart,” Mark said. He pointed to their size, power, and beauty, saying the birds are keystone creatures for the ecosystem.
In 1987 Mark started working with Mike Peterson, of Elizabethtown, under his banding permit for 20 years until about 10 years ago when Mark started working with him to get his own banding permit.
“And as I was going through the teaching I remember, with the Hamerstroms, it was so hands-on and you were working with raptors and I thought, it was such a magical experience,” Mark said. “I would love to do something like that, and that’s what got me started.”
Since that time, Mark has retired from teaching in high school and has been an adjunct instructor at Paul Smith’s College where he recruits and trains his student apprentices, or “Gabboons,” as he calls them. He has also constructed a “Raptor Palace” in his front yard where Morley the Eurasian Eagle Owl lives with his younger sister, Millie, a Barn Owl named Tessie, two Eastern Screech Owls named Pugsley and Wednesday, a Gyr-Saker hybrid falcon named Phineas, and a Harris’s Hawk named Mortimer, all of which you will be able to meet and learn more about in the video at the end of this blog.
Through Mark’s various banding programs, he and his Gabboons help to allow the birds to be recognized as individuals, similarly in the way a license plate differentiates one person’s car from another identical make and model. It also helps to determine the health and well being of the bird as well as finding out where it has migrated from.
“And we get a wealth of knowledge,” Mark said. “Birders watch birds and they learn a lot. Birders can be very good biologists but unless they are individually marked, you don’t know which bird is which. They are coming and going at the bird feeder, and maybe one has a natural marking that helps you distinguish it from another one, maybe one has a behavioral thing, but maybe there are two that have that behavioral thing, so you don’t know for sure.”
That’s where banding comes in handy.
Mark has tracked his banded red-tailed hawks and kestrels as having traveled from here to places like the tarmac of the Miami-Dade Airport, Miami, Fl., and near New Orleans, La.
“We caught a saw whet owl one time that was banded by someone else the year before,” Mark recalled. “It was banded in Duluth, Minnesota, and then, three days later, a bird that I had banded four years before, a saw whet, ended up in Duluth, Minnesota, so we traded birds. People think everything is going north-south, this one went east-west, so unless you band them, you don’t know what is going on.”
But Mark does more than just banding birds, he and his Gabboons have responded to rescue work, going to spaces in buildings where birds have gotten in but have been unable to get out. The team will catch them, make sure they are healthy, and, if they are malnourished or have other health issues, will bring them to a rehabilitator and nurse them back to health.
GABBOONS TO THE RESCUE
Mark recalled a recent rescue of a great horned owl that flew into a big barn in Malone and got completely coated with manure.
“The people caught it and stuck it in a trash bin, they called me, I went over, and we pulled it out,” Mark said. “One of us was holding it while the other was hosing it down and scrubbing it down and cleaning it and you know that owl did not like that and it was several pounds worth of dirt and manure and sand, and it took forever to clean it off.”
At the time of the rescue it was nesting season and the owl, being a male, was likely providing food to its mate and their downy owlets, Mark said, so, after several days of observation to make sure the bird was okay, the team banded it and released it back into the wild within the vicinity in which it was caught. Normally the team would relocate the bird to avoid another entrapment, Mark said.
Mark and his Gabboons also participate in Project SNOWstorm where they track and tag snowy owls. Many of those misadventures are the vehicle behind Mark’s first book, Adventures With Stoney: The Great Snowy Owl Caper.
A few years ago he received a call from the state Department of Environmental Conservation asking him to come out and capture a snowy owl at the Ogdensburg International Airport.
Airports with enough air traffic and larger planes are mandated by the Federal Aviation Administration to chase off owls or other big birds, which could also result in shooting the birds if they refuse to leave, Mark said.
“Snowy owls are like couch potatoes, they’re not going anywhere, they will shuffle around and kind of grumble about it like you and I would, but they’re not going anywhere,” Mark said. “Well, they tried scaring them off, they didn’t want to shoot them, so, to their credit, they contacted the local DEC, who then turned around and contacted me, and I said we would definitely help. We’re not going to see snowy owls come all the way from the Tundra just to be shot here.”
Mark has rescued snowy owls from Ogdensburg and Malone and has reached out to airports in Potsdam, Massena, Plattsburgh, Lake Placid, Lake Clear, and Watertown.
“I’m willing to travel if we can shuttle birds out to a better place because they’re not at the airports because they like to watch the planes fly, they’re just coming there because there is a wide-open habitat which kind of resembles the Tundra and they can sit on the buildings or the towers and look out for hunting purposes,” Mark said. “So we are trying to figure out where they are going to, where they are coming from, how long they live, that type of thing.”
Plus, Mark and his Gabboons have been working with banding, monitoring, and managing the American kestrel population in the area. Next year will be the twentieth year of the program.
THE BEST WAY TO LEARN IS “HANDS ON”
It is this kind of hands-on experience that he picked up during his grad school years when he was working with the Hamerstroms that Mark said he wanted to bring to the north country and to his teaching as an adjunct at Paul Smith’s, but, more importantly, outside the classrooms.
“Hands-on is the best way to learn and also we have a banding station for saw whets here where kids actually get credit to come work on that,” Mark said. “So I always open it up to my students. It makes you that much more rounded, it gives you that much more experience, and let’s face it, you can talk about a snowy owl and look at pictures, but if you are holding one, it’s a whole, totally different experience. You feel that connection with another creature.
“There is nothing better than knowing that you are doing something that is affecting another species for the positive,” Mark added. “We all try and affect things positively but at a much smaller scale, generally, and, whenever we can, we always feel very good about that. So we just took that, maybe magnified that quite a bit more, and we are trying to affect that at a little bit of a larger scale, because we also affect things negatively, whether we like to or not, we always do, it’s just part of being human and living on this planet, so we are trying to, maybe instead of doing some negative things, maybe do some positive to balance out.”
Keeping in step with his passion for recounting his adventures, Mark said for years he had been thinking about writing a book, maybe a compilation of short stories on experiences he had with the birds and other creatures.
SPINNING TALES FOR THE PAGE
He connected with Gary VanRiper, who authors the Adirondack Kids series with his wife and son. Gary advised Mark to consider his target audience and consider what his stories would be focused on and, in following a year-or-so of thought, Mark settled on an audience of middle school-aged kids.
“You know when people turn off from reading, there are two age groups and one of those age groups is that middle-school age,” Mark said. “And I thought that would be good because they would be good stories for them to read, but educational and at the same time it would give me the chance to tell stories that have happened to me and get those stories out there.”
Mark has two books in the series published, a third in the process of getting published, and a fourth in the creation stage, each of them a blend of fiction and nonfiction, and either about adventures Mark has had throughout the years or adventures his friends had, which is why he calls his stories Adventures With Stoney, not Adventures With Mark, he said, “because they are not all my adventures.”
Mark’s first book, Adventures With Stoney: The Great Snowy Owl Caper, from which he will be reading when we meet with him next, comes from a combination of unusual experiences that happened to Mark and a friend of his, during each of their separate attempts at trying to catch a snowy owl for the first time . . . And that’s where the adventure takes off!
I’ve been thinking about the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday and the fact that so many people are not going to be able to see their loved ones due to the pandemic and the reported increase in COVID-19 cases in our communities. I was reminded of how thankful I am for the people I care about and won’t be able to see, as I know many of you are.
Among those people missed that we at PPL are thankful for are the wonderful patrons and friends of the library.
For a little while now some of us PPL staffers have been thinking about you all, about how we miss having the doors open to the community, and how much we miss seeing each of you walking through those doors, roaming the aisles, perusing books and movies, reading the newspapers and magazines, browsing the web, or just hanging out.
We miss it, and I say this as a fella who, at the time the library closed its doors to this pandemic, was one of you: a then-reporter who would use the library as an office and would consume as many Kurt Vonnegut books (print and audio) as possible.
Since the time the doors closed in March, the world (and our interior) has continued to go through drastic changes. We think about those changes every day, and have been hearing from many of you: hearing about what you have been missing about the library during this time, about your memories of first experiences here, what brings you back, the people you would meet on Sundays to swap sections of the Watertown Daily Times (I might be a little biased, but I really love hearing that, as a former Times reporter).
These stories mean a lot to us, and by the fact that you are sharing them with us, we know they mean a lot to you. I had been talking with your faithful library director, Annie Davey, about these stories and she shared hers with me. The library brought her back to her hometown all the way from Denver, and as I am tapping into my years as a journalist and applying them however I can to this new role as the Adult Program Coordinator at the library, I started asking some of you to tell me your stories so that I can share them with the community.
Here begins the People of PPL edition of my A View From the Third Floor blog: Your stories, memories, anecdotes, the things you miss most about the Potsdam Public Library during this time of “Rona & Renovation.” We are asking you to send them along (500-1,000 words with a portrait) so we can share them with your library community. You already know each other, but, in some cases, you haven’t been introduced. Such was the case with one woman who talked about a group of patrons she would trade sections of the newspaper with: “Oh, Chris was great . . . I don’t know that I know his last name, we just happened to be at the library at the same time.”
Now you can get to see each other and share stories again, just in a bit of a different medium, as a placeholder until we can commiserate inside the library together again.
If you have a story you want to tell, send it to firstname.lastname@example.org, and be sure to include a photo so we can see your smiling face again in whatever environment makes you happiest.
During my years as a news reporter I had the opportunity to write about the Potsdam Recreation Department (also known as Rec) and what it offers to its community. Rec Director Trey Smutz has been dedicated to his work there and gives as much of himself to the community as possible. In fact, I think it would be fair to say that he and assistant Derek Greene really are the “department.”
When I left the paper in June and took this job at PPL, I was immediately asked by Potsdam Town Board Member Sarah Lister if I would be interested in joining the Recreation Committee, and I jumped at the opportunity . . . In fact, I think I said, “yes,” before she finished asking the question.
A big part of that ask was the interest in developing adult programming for Rec, as many of the programs and events usually involve youth, with hockey and figure skating in the winter months and the camp-style summer rec program.
Naturally, as Trey and I got together, the gears started going: What resources are available for adults through rec? How can we promote the department outside the Pine Street Arena as well as in? How do we create programming that adheres to the safety procedures surrounding this wretched pandemic, as it obviously has people at a distance from one another and has limited programming of all sorts?
While we work on addressing some of these questions and are putting together programming, we want to hear from you, our community, about what adult programs you would like to see. Some of you have already pitched ideas that both Trey and I have been talking about (like pickleball and fly fishing) which made us feel confident we were on the right path.
Below I have written up my recent interview with Trey, about our steps ahead in new programming, about how the pandemic has impacted Rec, and about how it will shape it going forward.
So get the latest on your Potsdam community below and give Trey and me your feedback on what you want to see for programming and let’s have a conversation.
And, straight from the start, I’m glad to be here!
Your Adult Program Coordinator,
William “W.T.” Eckert
POTSDAM – The pandemic has been a trying time for everyone, including Potsdam Recreation Department Director Trey Smutz.
Sitting inside the echoing walls of the Pine Street Arena, Trey took a break from removing the puck marks from the boards along the side of the currently ice-free rink to talk about adult program ideas in partnership with the Potsdam Public Library.
This isn’t the first time I’ve talked with Trey about adult programming. Over the past few weeks, we’ve discussed programs like free kayak and paddle board rentals during the summer months, nature hikes and bocce ball leagues, and snowshoeing or cross country skiing trips.
Amid the many goals we are trying to reach through this partnership is to provide not just a link between literacy and the natural resources through ideas such as borrowing a certain type of book from the library and getting a free rental from Rec or by sharing resources, like keeping rentable snowshoes at the library as well as at Pine Street Arena, but to also show that the Rec Department does more than cater to the youth in the area.
“We definitely want to support our supporters,” Trey said of the partnership with the library. “So if we are in a relationship or have something good going with the library, we want to funnel as many people to the library that they are trying to funnel here.”
A Pandemic-altered Rec Department
Trey has talked with me and local officials, at length, about the changes the Rec Department has had to face since the pandemic shut down communities and isolated people from group activities, including the possibility that there will be no open skating at the arena until 2021.
Summer programming was also shut down and the beaches were delayed in their opening and had to close earlier than expected. The pandemic also prevented other events from being held after the ice was taken out of the rink, like the Potsdam Humane Society’s Strut Your Mutt and the Brew-Ha-Hops Craft Brew & Cider show hosted by the At The Arc Jefferson – St. Lawrence for The Foundation of St. Lawrence NYSARC.
The spring events, when the ice is out and the compressors are off, supplement some of the arena’s downtime, he said, making the timing of the pandemic even more trying for the Rec Department.
“We could set up tables and chairs and we can provide different activities for community members that might not necessarily be here when the ice is in and it’s freezing cold,” he said. “So having lost that extra revenue there, it was just a waiting game to see how we were going to turn this Summer Rec Program into something that is viable amidst these concerns.”
It was ultimately determined that holding the summer program would have been too much of a risk, especially with the frequently shared equipment threatening to spread the virus.
“So it was a really hard decision not to be able to do summer rec and have those kids come here like they have every year, and certainly it was difficult trying to get the beaches open and adhering to the guidelines of the governor’s office, or county legislators, or wherever it may be coming from,” he said. “It was just kind of an unknown. It was something that everyone was dealing with while everyone still wanted to be active and live their healthy lifestyle, so we understood that.”
Moreover, plans to update the parks were put on hold. Trey said this means things like new grills, picnic tables, and Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant playground equipment will be added to the playground areas next year.
There was guidance from the St. Lawrence County Health Department during the changing guidelines in the early stages of the virus pandemic, Trey said.
“It was actually nice working with them because I thought it was going to be a lot more difficult but they kind of laid out, ‘you need to do this, you need to do that if you are opening your beaches and parks,’” he said he was advised. “And what most people don’t realize is that technically when someone was here, at the park or at the playground, if they had used a picnic table or if they went on a swing, our staff was advised to wipe that down or sanitize after every use.”
That led to an extension in hours for Trey and his staff. He said his staff would work from 8 AM to 4 PM and he would have to cover evenings to be sure safety measures were enforced if anyone came back to the park, including making sure someone was watching bathrooms so that it was being used by one person at a time, and then sanitizing it after each use.
All of that was a challenge when you are trying to get other work done in the arena or trying to make up for lost time for other plans or projects.
So how does the pandemic and all the regulations regarding social distancing shape the Rec Department, going into the long, north country winter?
Trey said that depends on how the school shapes up during its opening weeks, including how they interact with kids sharing transportation. With Clarkson University and SUNY Potsdam not making ice time available to the community as they will not be open to the public, at least not for the remainder of 2020, that creates an opportunity for Potsdam Rec to rent out ice time that was previously undesirable.
But that doesn’t come without precaution and concern about the public usage of the arena. Trey said plans for coping with the policies for social distancing are in the process of being mapped out for youth hockey and figure skating at Pine Street Arena.
When junior hockey teams or the figure skating clubs use the ice it is less of a concern, Trey said, as it is scheduled, unlike when there is public skating or public events, where he has to be concerned about anybody from the public getting sick or coming in to contact with someone who might not have quarantined.
“So the issue we are really looking at is, how do we monitor, how do we record keep those individuals coming in for public times?” Trey asked. “And as for the ice schedule, I don’t believe we are going to have any public sessions, at least to start off. We can still try to schedule some adult skating, but it would have to be on a registration basis so we know who would be coming into the arena as much as possible.
“I think when we first open, and we target to open in the beginning of October, that you are going to see primary use from junior hockey and figure skating associations,” Trey added. “So we know who is coming through the doors (and) what groups and what teams are in the vicinity during each specific time.”
All the restrictions and the slow open to the public is not for the benefit of the Rec Department, Trey said. With things like potential pre-registration for open skating, it is to benefit to anyone from outside Potsdam who may travel 15-20 minutes in a bad snowstorm to find the limit of skaters allowed on the ice has been reached.
He said he doesn’t want to turn people away, so he is also considering shortening the open skating to two 30-minute sessions instead of a full hour, so the first 30 minutes a group of 20 to 30 adults could go out and then after the first 30 minutes is up a new wave of people can get out there.
“We certainly want to make sure it is fair and just for everybody that wants to access here,” Trey said. “We will certainly have our own rules policies about masks or if it is beneficial to have gloves here and things like that, but we will certainly have certain designated areas in the arena.”
Growth and partnership despite the pandemic
But while that is being sorted out Trey and I have been talking about what we can do to create a program that takes advantage of not just the resources the arena and beaches have to offer but the natural resources in our surrounding area that can benefit adult programming.
This is all a part of the new partnership between the Potsdam Public Library and the Potsdam Recreation Department. As I have previously mentioned, I have been looking for ways to take the library outside the library walls and get into the community, such a partnership with the Rec Department not only does that, but also advocates for active and healthier living and creates activities for adults.
The first of such programs, a pair of history and nature walks along the Red Sandstone Trail and Sugar Island in partnership with the Laurentian Chapter of the Adirondack Mountain Club, is being held the weekend of Oct. 10 and 11. More information on that event and the Laurentian Chapter can be found at https://www.facebook.com/events/2658283707770587/
Trey and I have also been talking about snowshoeing expeditions that would start off with a few 101 classes about snowshoeing. Those classes would likely be held on the fields behind the arena this winter and will be ironed out closer to the dates of the events.
Currently the Rec Department has 33 pairs of snowshoes to rent for such events with sizes that range from children 60 pounds or less to adults 200 pounds and up, though the 101 classes would be free to the public with a limited class size that would require registration.
Snowshoe rentals range from free on-site usage to off-site day rental: $5/day per pair for adults, free for children; off-site day rental – group 4+: $20; and off-site weekend rentals also available, with a price to be determined.
These assets and resources have not been utilized as much as they could be, Trey said, and he has embraced the partnership with the library to help foster growth in the Rec Department as well as reaching out to the adults in the community.
“It’s certainly just, not necessarily trying to reinvent the wheel, but to find those programs or find those partners in the community that are willing to maybe contribute coming up with a solution (to cater to the adults in our community), like maybe we have pickleball next year, working on creating revenue to generate stuff for programs like that,” Trey said. “It is something (pickleball) that I know there was a lot of discussion of before I started as director. I certainly know a few individuals who are over at the SUNY Potsdam courts early in the morning and getting their workout in and there are some really experienced players over there, too, who, if there were more courts or more opportunities to play, I think a league or something bigger could come of that.”
Currently, the Rec Department has the main posts and netting for a pickleball court. Paddles would need to be purchased, which Trey said were pretty inexpensive. It is now just a matter of where to safely create a court to protect against traffic, as it is being considered for the corner of the Pine Street Arena parking lot, near the playground, as well as figuring out the cost to create and maintain it.
“So it is really just thinking about how much money is it going to take to pave the new court and then how are we going to sustain the upkeep of that court during that time with the weather conditions in this area,” he said.
But in the meantime, Trey and I are working on programs or lessons to get community members involved to make them knowledgeable about what we have here for resources.
“I just don’t want people to just think of this as a hockey arena,” Trey told me. “We certainly want to hear everyone’s input too, what everyone is excited about or what people want to do. What is the community going to get the most use out of because we know, yeah, it might be helpful that junior hockey and figure skating are still in here, but we are still serving the whole community and we want to be conscious of that.”
It’s been a long while since I’ve had the chance to report on the Potsdam Downtown Revitalization process. I was fortunate enough to have been reporting for the Watertown Daily Times covering Potsdam at the time of the DRI application process and subsequent October 2019 announcement of the village being awarded the $10 million grant by Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul during a news conference in Clarkson University’s Old Main building.
Now I am here to tell you the final projects have been submitted to the state for funding consideration and recap a bit of the process during the pandemic.
The Village got to work with the state and local partners, MJ Engineering (from Clifton Park) came on board as the design team and the public had multiple opportunities to sit in on meetings and gatherings to study the projects and give input. But between then and now, the Rona came to town and the DRI’s Local Planning Committee went from in-person meetings to a singular online meeting on March 17 before those meetings came to a sudden halt and the process lost five months, now setting them on an expedited path, according to Frederick J. Hanss, Potsdam’s planning and development director.
Mr. Hanss has been a constant source of information on the process and he, along with LPC member Maggie McKenna, who is also the executive director of the St. Lawrence Arts Council, sat down with me on Sept. 2 to give us an update on all things DRI and my story on that is below.
Glad to be here, your Adult Program Coordinator, William “W.T.” Eckert
Fourteen projects for Potsdam’s Downtown Revitalization Initiative have been selected by the Local Planning Committee and were sent to the state following Wednesday night’s virtual committee meeting.
During the course of the nearly hour-and-a-half meeting, which was the sixth meeting of the LPC led by project consulting agency M.J. Engineering and Land Surveying P.C.and was streamed live on YouTube and can be seen at https://potsdamdri.com/, the committee decided to cut the proposed St. Lawrence Whitewater Park from the original list of 15 projects.
The cost of the whitewater park was a proposed $2,060,000 and was seeking the total amount in its DRI ask, without a local share. The total cost of the 15 projects was $22.2 million prior to the exclusion of the whitewater park, bringing the total projects costs down to $19,940,000. The total ask in grant money from the DRI was reduced from $14.3 million to $12.24 million.
Potsdam Planning and Development Director Frederick J. Hanss said the Local Planning Committee expects to hear back from the state regarding which projects will be chosen for funding no earlier than next year.
Originally at $10 million, the DRI grant funding is now $9.7 million following the cost to create the LPC.
But getting to Wednesday night’s sixth meeting and whittling down the project list and costs was a task, one that was supposed to be completed in May, following the obstacle of a pandemic that shut down businesses, municipalities, and whole communities, including a five-month halt to the DRI process following a March 17 online conference.
“So everything got put on pause and, essentially, what we were hearing from the consultants was that the state wasn’t going to approve what they were calling ‘The Continuation Plan’ piecemeal, so you had to submit it and there was a deadline in April for submissions,” Mr. Hanss said. “I think we are on more of an expedited schedule to get it wrapped up, and this has been a fast-moving process, too.”
The Local Planning Committee submitted their plan to continue virtually while the state agencies and the consulting teams at MJ Engineering worked on a plan to continue the public participation process for the village.
Following the Aug. 12 virtual meeting, the first meeting since March, teams created the online project gallery, the on-street project profile posters that were put up at Jernabi Coffeehouse and the Potsdam Chamber of Commerce, hardcopy brochures, and comment cards that were in the front and rear lobbies of the village offices on Park Street, and the Sept. 2 live Q & A with the DRI LPC Co-chairs, State Representatives, and Project Consultants.
Public Participation ended on Sept. 4, with what Mr. Hanss said was about 90 written comments submitted from the public and about 400 people visited the online project profile. SLC Arts Executive Director Maggie M. McKenna, who is also a village trustee and is a member of the LPC, said she valued the various perspectives and questions about some of the projects, which she had not previously considered,
Ms. McKenna also has a project, North Country Arts Center Project located at 6-8 Raymond St., which is being considered for funding through the DRI. Prior to Wednesday’s LPC meeting, she announced on Facebook that the project already received $20,000 in grant funding from the St. Lawrence County Industrial Development Agency through the St. Lawrence River Valley Redevelopment Agency’s 2020 Community Development & Environmental Improvement Program.
“It has been a whirlwind,” Ms. McKenna told me, laughing. “I have to wear two very different hats when I’m on, which is complicated, because I do have a vote in the Local Planning Committee but I cannot be advocating for my own project because that would be a conflict of interest and I take that very seriously.”
Both Mr. Hanss and Ms. McKenna praised the projects that were submitted by members of the private sector, saying those projects didn’t get the level of attention they deserved.
“So when you look at the Co-Op project or you look at the Clarkson Inn project or Nick Zern’s project (at 59 Market St., doing handicap accessibility, some facilities improvements and then create a business conferencing center in the basement), those are transformative projects, Mr. Hanss said. “Those projects, number one, they are going to generate real property tax revenue for the village, they are going to generate sales tax revenue that the village will enjoy, they are going to provide employment opportunities for people, even with the Co-Op, the Co-Op might be looking at moving five people from being part-time employees to five people being full-time employees. That’s a home run as far as an economic developer is concerned.”
Ms. McKenna, who was previously a member of the Co-Op Board, said there had been a $15,000 marketing study done to determine whether the Co-Op should move. The results of the study said “‘you should move, you will be able to grow.’”
“So it was like ‘move or die’ essentially and they said that the best place we think you should move is somewhere near Pizza Hut, which is exactly where they are going,” she said. “I have been so amazed at the Co-Op because they have three board members running their program and I’m crunching numbers as we speak, right now. So I’m really proud of the Co-Op and their board leadership for doing all that work too. It’s been really incredible.”
Many of these projects, the Co-Op move, The North Country Arts Center, the expansion of the Clarkson Inn, have all been projects in the works, but before the DRI grant, had all been a bit of a pipe dream, Ms. McKenna said.
In the case of the Clarkson Inn project, sponsored by Vision Hotels to include 20 new rooms, a fitness center, and a “modern meeting space,” according to the project proposal, Mr. Hanss said it has been on the drawing board for 10 years, had the schematics all drawn up, and had been to the planning board with approval.
The DRI was a game-changer and a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” for Potsdam, Ms. McKenna said.
“All in all, I think it has been really wonderful to see this process unfold, to see the community leaders participating in the conversations and saying this is what we care about as a community, these are the things that matter to us and this is why,” Ms. McKenna said. “But then, on the other side of things, I have a project in here. It’s been really gratifying to see my personal vision ‒ for my downtown that I live in and my organization that I run ‒ is something that people are really interested in. So it has been really exciting to see that happen, too.”
For Mr. Hanss, he said the excitement in the process has been to see the four years he has been working with village officials, like Administrator Gregory O. Thompson and the village board, having submitted DRI applications to the state, lead to a winning proposal.
“For four, whole-long years out in the tall grass to like, boom, we got a Local Planning Committee and they are looking at projects and they are coming up with ideas and watching the process go from 47 projects to 15 projects, that’s been pretty cool,” He said. “And nobody can say that it wasn’t community-driven, because it was, and nobody can say that the public wasn’t’ put in the process, because they were, and it’s worked really well so far.”
William here, again, with a new kind of blog I have been thinking about, probably since prior to my arrival as the Potsdam Public Library Adult Program Coordinator. This one is rooted in the news of not just what is happening around the library, but what is happening around the neighborhood . . . the village, the town, and maybe a bit beyond. This is
A View From the Third Floor
When I was first talking to your devoted Library Director Annie Davey about taking the job, she gave me two options as to where I could have my office: in the solitude of the basement (which is a cozy spot, by all means); or on the third floor, which comes with a window overlooking the library. Without hesitation, I jumped on the third-floor opportunity. I thought, as a program coordinator, how great would it be to be able to look down on the library and imagine how we could utilize the space for talks, concerts, classes, and the like?
But then other stories popped up, as they do in the mind of someone who has been a student of journalism since the early 2000s, and I began to look out the window across from my desk and considered how it overlooks Downtown Potsdam. This third-floor office gives me a view of not just the inside of the library but the outside as well. A View From the Third Floor will, thus, be a kind of news periodical, keeping up with the news of our community, since a library should be a source of information,
Information is the gateway to knowledge, right? So I will keep my ears and eyes open for stories but will count on the community to also keep me in the know.
PPL Adult Program Coordinator William Eckert here again with the much-desired, frequently-requested update as to where we are with renovations.
The truism is that you have to have a solid foundation and that is what architect Rebecca Naomi Weld, founder of Renew Architecture & Design said she is working on with contractors.
Work has been delayed mainly due to issues at the foundation level, but also as a result of the historic nature of the building, Ms. Weld said.
Contractors with Continental Construction of Gouverneur, the company doing the work, cut a series of holes into the library floor where steel beams will be located to support the new second-floor mezzanine; however, there were some issues when it came with the alignment of the blueprints for the library and the blueprints with the basement, resulting in the delays, Ms. Weld said.
“When we go to connect these dots down below, we had very accurate drawings of the two,” she said, “but they were slightly off in terms of where they were, relative to each other–just a couple of inches–but that did mean that we had to adjust the steel frame to be able to do that.”
Moreover, there was a concern with doing work in the basement because it is occupied by tenants other than the library, so to avoid disturbing the other tenants, “plastic cages” or enclosures have been created where each of the posts will be installed.
Inside one of the enclosures, Ms. Weld points to the cuts in the existing floor in order to get into the ground underneath. Above that cut, she points to the matching cut in the ceiling that is also the library floor. In the way of that hole are two pipes, one being a water main, that Ms. Weld said has become part of the infrastructure since the original blueprints were created.
Because it was not on their radar, Ms. Weld said a change order had to be created with the contractor for any additional costs. A relatively minor change, but a delay, she said.
Contractors have been working around other existing infrastructure they’ve encountered, including existing steel posts they don’t want to disturb. Ms. Weld said they are placing structures and steel beam supports around them to avoid disturbing the structural integrity of the existing building.
Cutting into the concrete slab of the basement floor, an old sewer main pipe was also discovered. Ms. Weld said it was undetermined as to whether it was still working and could come from the original 1937 construction of the building.
“When this building was first built there were several sets of changing rooms and bathrooms. The bathrooms for the people who were coming to see the theater were up here more towards the front, Park Street side of the building here, and then back here there were changing rooms and locker rooms,” she said. “So this could be a pipe from 1937 but we can’t just cut it out and find out later that it was actually the water main that goes to the water in the back, so we had to extend that footer.”
Of the nine beams in total, the beams on the floor across from the Friends of the Library bookstore will be covered with custom-made bookcases that will cover the structure and replace the existing bookcases in front of the bookstore.
In the corner of the basement next to the doorway leading into the offices of the St. Lawrence Arts Council and Village Planning and Development offices, contractors are working to “shoehorn” a post in very close to an existing post; the space beyond it had a closet for the equipment of the elevator.
“And of course, we need some of that space where the equipment for the elevator is for a footer,” she said. “In the end, it will just be changes under the ground, but we got permission from the Village to very temporarily shut down the elevator, pull the equipment out of the way, build our footer, put the equipment back in.
“And, of course, there is a pipe there, an old pipe that has asbestos, and they remediated 85 feet of asbestos pipe . . .” she said.
Ms. Weld said they also made some starting assumptions about the soil conditions and about the existing foundation, but it is an existing building with a slab covering all of that.
“So we had to do our best guess and it turned out that our best guess was a bit optimistic,” she said. “So that causes a delay in that they did what we had drawn and then when they saw some of those conditions we had to literally go back to the drawing board.”
“So the long and short of it is, there was a delay because we had to revisit what those situations were going to be, but now we have a plan and we are very close to them coming back in and moving,” she said.
From there, she said work should be able to proceed fairly smoothly but all of it essential, especially due to the weight the steel beams will carry.
“That’s going to have books on it as well,” Ms. Weld said of the mezzanine, “so that is a whole other level of structural load, and there is nothing heavier than books. So we didn’t want to set two floors of books on one old, 1937 steel frame.”
In addition to the Phase One mezzanine project, the first of three phases, Phase Two will see the 1976 drop ceiling with the fluorescent lighting removed to create eight more feet of ceiling space, showcase the original ceiling which has a historic cornice around the whole perimeter and make room for the mezzanine, which she said would currently only have a six-foot ceiling with the drop ceiling in place.
The new mezzanine will create a second floor that will cover about a third of the existing library floor, where there will be a new children’s area.
The restorations to the rest of the library’s main reading room will only complement the mezzanine, she said, including not just the restoration of the cornice around the ceiling, but also new “more historically-pleasing” lights, exposing some of the details around the back wall, where the staff offices are located and what was previously the stage of the auditorium.
“There are pilasters that we can see the base of on the walls but we can’t see the tops of them but they do exist,” Ms. Weld said. “And then the hardwood floor from when it was an auditorium has been covered with carpet.”
While some of that hardwood floor will be restored, Ms. Weld said carpeting will likely remain in the children’s area in order to mute some of the sounds there.
The library will also be fashioned with a new heating and cooling system that will give the space air conditioning in the summer months, which it has been without. That, along with the ceiling and carpet removal, will be a part of the second phase of the renovations, which needs to go out to bid to determine what construction agency will get the job. Ms. Weld said if the job goes to Continental, they would likely be able to overlap the two phases, quickening the pace of the work.
“The air conditioning units are going to be a series of wall-mounted units, so we do have to deal with the existing infrastructure,” Ms. Weld said. “As we have been doing this construction, we’ve learned more than when we first started designing it. We were taking some stabs at things and now we have a better handle on what is actually here and so we’ll be incorporating that as well. The whole place will be air-conditioned, which will make it a really nice refuge for the larger community once the space is open. So next summer, when we get these 80-90 degree days, people can come and hang out in the reading room, hang out in the mezzanine and stay cool in here.”
In the third phase of renovations, which will be a more behind-the-scenes project with no impact on the library’s re-opening, the “stage area” where the offices, staff room, and restroom were created in 1976, will all be redesigned.
“The bathroom isn’t accessible, the children’s room and the room that they are currently using for a meeting room is a little bit small,” Ms. Weld said. “When the mezzanine goes in, it actually is going to match the level of the balcony you can see up here, so we would like there to be a classroom space off of that, so we are going to improve that classroom space a little.”
Currently, there is a third-floor balcony about three-feet wide that is storing furniture. Ms. Weld said the wall is going to be brought out to utilize that space on the office side with the addition of more windows.
The ceiling over the circulation desk where patrons enter the library will also be replaced with the current light fixtures remaining in place.
“And then the detail that we did on the railing of the mezzanine and the stair that goes up to the mezzanine, all of those details were taken from the original drawings that I found,” Ms. Weld said. “I have blueprints from 1937 that the building department has on file that show full-scale drawings of the bases of some of these columns, the lovely turn detail for the tops of all of the newel posts. So things like that, some of it we are doing very similar, and some of it we are duplicating some of those details.”
The original building housing the library was built in 1937 as a Works Progress Administration building, as part of the New Deal to keep people employed coming out of the Great Depression.
The ceiling above the entranceway to the library used to be a balcony that has since been closed in.
“What is nice about it is that it was done in 1937 so the details are fairly classical but they aren’t so fancy that restoring them is a whole production of sourcing materials and going back to old-world processes,” she said. “It is pretty straight forward, relatively speaking but still a nicer detail than some of the sort of 70s finishes that went in now.”
Up until the time of the 1976 renovations, Ms. Weld said the auditorium was fairly famous for its community-wide Halloween dances and other things.
“If anyone has pictures to send us, please do, because I can’t find pictures,” she said. “It actually used to open to the building next door, so when it had theater productions here, the place that is currently used for Village Planning Board and administrative meetings was actually a reception hall for the theater.”
Ms. Weld exuded a certain sense of pride and excitement in the work she is doing in bringing this classical look back to the library, pride and excitement that is shared with the entire staff at the library and we hope is shared with our patrons.
But the good work takes time and she said a finish date is not solid but is estimated to be in mid-autumn.
“I certainly can’t make any promises though. At some point, when we revise the contract, the promised finish date for Phase One will be known, but, like I said, there is still the question with how Phase Two is going to work, but certainly our goal is getting it all done at one time, and overlap with the COVID setback, so that’s a long time for the library to be closed, but when it is open again it is going to be spectacular,” Ms. Weld said. “It is going to have more room for people. It is going to have more amenities for people, so we are hoping that people will be patient with us and come back when we’re open.”
Potsdam Public Library has hired as its new adult program coordinator former Watertown Daily Times reporter William Eckert, who library Director Annie Davey called “an invaluable asset.”
“It turned out to be just the perfect fit,” Ms. Davey said. “With his community connections and his enthusiasm for all things in this community and, through working at the paper, I think he has gained such a great understanding of our community and all the different facets of it, that I think that deep understanding of who our patrons are, it is going to be an invaluable asset as a programmer.”
Mr. Eckert said he always had a love of libraries, but his love of the Potsdam Public Library was enhanced after he spoke with Ms. Davey in his capacity as a reporter about the library renovations and Ms. Davey’s vision for the library’s future.
“The Potsdam Public Library has always been a special place for me and I have spent many hours writing here, getting to know the folks that work here and now, to work with them, I count myself deeply fortunate,” he said. “Among all the wonderful experiences I’ve gained as a newspaperman, the greatest was my adoration for community, specifically the Potsdam community, after I was assigned to cover it for the paper. This place is truly special and I believe the library is at the heart of that. I hope to partner with organizations and individuals who want to build on that with programs to educate, entertain and unite our area.”
As adult program coordinator, Mr. Eckert is a member of the LIFE (Literacy is for Everyone) Department, headed by Public Services Manager Sarah Sachs, and he is responsible for planning classes and events for adults and teens, as well as cultivating community partnerships that encourage sustainable and innovative programming.
Mrs. Sachs said in hiring for the position she was looking for someone who would fit into working with all the other programmers at the library.
“We hired someone with a journalism background and with a large portion of curiosity involved in his personality, which is something that I really think, as an educator, is the best approach to learning. You have to be curious,” Mrs. Sachs said. “So already, at the two-week mark, I am seeing not only these qualities, but seeing them being applied, so I think the journalism skills, the organizational skills, the ability to go out and talk to people cold, is really going to work well in this position.”
In addition to his journalism background, Mr. Eckert brings experience as a musician, poet and chef.
He is currently developing programs that include a birds of prey program with Mark Manske of Adirondack Raptors in Dickinson Center; an outdoor yoga program; a writer’s series; a music series; and a social justice series.
Ms. Davey said one of her favorite things about the culture at the library is being able to capitalize on everyone’s own passion.
“And so I see this already happening with William because he is calling in connections he has in this community and I would point to the Birds of Prey program that is coming up,” Ms. Davey said. “This is unlike anything we have done at the library before and it is really taking the library out of the building completely and integrating literacy concepts at the same time and tapping into our community’s interests.”