Selectman: More Public Input Is Needed on Future of Vine Cottage, Irwin House

More public input is needed before New Canaan gets closer to funding projects that bring major changes to the use and ownership of town-owned buildings such as Vine Cottage, Irwin House and the former Outback Teen Center, Selectman Kit Devereaux said Tuesday. There hasn’t been any real discussion in public about renting Irwin House to nonprofit organizations, for example, yet a process appears to be underway to start funding work to that end, according to Devereaux. “I am concerned, for instance, that in renovating—and I have no idea how much it would cost to do the full renovation of the Outback,” Devereaux said during the Board of Selectmen’s regular meeting, held at Town Hall. “By doing that I presume it would be a fait accompli to move Human Services over there which then creates a vacant building, and I just think before the Vine Cottage is put on the block, that there should be a lot of public discussion and the public should weigh in, even a referendum.”

Her comments came as the selectmen discussed proposed bond resolutions that are to go before municipal funding bodies and are related to future capital projects. They include $50,000 to plan for the renovation of the lower level at the former Outback Teen Center for office use and $80,000 for similar work at Irwin House.

Officials Receive Proposal To Convert Irwin House into IBM Museum

New Canaan has received a proposal to convert Irwin House—originally the country home of IBM founder Thomas Watson, Sr.—into a museum dedicated to the iconic company, town officials confirmed Thursday. During the “Forum on Public Buildings,” Town Council Chairman John Engel—a panelist at the 2.5-hour event—cautioned that New Canaanites “can’t get ahead of ourselves on this.”

“There are a couple of things [to understand]: That is not the only proposal that’s out there, but it is the only proposal for Irwin [House]. I expect that we’re going to be getting proposals from lots of people. The first one came when a member of the Watsons and IBM approached the [New Canaan] Historical Society and said, ‘Is this possible?’ And when they asked Town Hall, Town Hall said, ‘We want to hear all proposals.’ And they said, ‘Great, can we walk the building with the IBM-Watson people to see if it’s even a fit?’ And that’s about as far as it [has gone].”

The comments came in response to an audience question at the forum, sponsored by the New Canaan Historical Society, New Canaan Preservation Alliance, Town of New Canaan and NewCanaanite.com. Designed to give residents information about many of the town-owned buildings whose future uses and ownership are in question, and to open up lines of communication between taxpayers and both elected and appointed decision-makers, it featured a panel that included Engel, First Selectman Kevin Moynihan, Town Council members Penny Young and Cristina A. Ross, and Board of Finance member Amy Murphy Carroll.

Public Buildings InfoSheet: Irwin House

[Editor’s Note: The following “Statement of significance” has been prepared in advance of the April 26 Forum on Public Buildings, to be held 6:30 to 9 p.m. at Town Hall—more information is available here and questions for panelists can be submitted here. Most of the information in the bullet points below is drawn from the Town Building Evaluation & Use Committee report.]

Built: 1963
Square Footage: 7,963
Current Uses: Recently provided swing space offices for the town, though a long-term use has not been identified. Committee Recommendations: Either put Irwin House to work or consider whether continued maintenance and the contingent liability is warranted. Potential use would be relocation of the Board of Educaiton from its leased office space either through a renovation/expansion or replacement, depending on the most cost effective and building appropriate analysis. Submitted by Neele-Banks Stichnoth:

Thomas Watson, Sr. the IBM founder, bought the property at 848 Weed Street for his country home.