Letter on Library: ‘Dismiss the Noise of Naysayers’

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Proposed rebuilt New Canaan Library—corner of Maple Street and South Avenue. Rendering courtesy of New Canaan Library

Who could blame New Canaan residents for being confused about the status of the new Library? In the past few months there have been repeated letters to the editor from a handful of vocal opponents. Many of the “Friends of the 1913 Library” have espoused vague proposals for the old building without endeavoring to find a specific end user and a means to pay for it. Saving an obsolete structure without a defined purpose would only add one more to the town’s current inventory of 56 buildings. The town fathers have already voted 10-2 not to make the retention of the obsolete 1913 structure a condition of the town’s contribution of $10 million, making further discussion redundant and essentially a moot point. Their shift to focusing on incomplete and out-of-date metrics and their uninformed comments on library funding is a transparent attempt to thwart the entire project simply to achieve their real goal: saving the old building.

The new design for our town library has been created over a matter of many years. It has been a collaborative process with thoughtful input from many townspeople of all ages, including non-users. Being the last of our peer towns and almost the last in Connecticut to have a new library we have gleaned much information about what has served our neighboring towns needs best in respect to construction and design. Over the past 10 years, New Canaan Library staff and volunteers have consulted in depth with these other libraries to learn as much as possible about the buildings and their subsequent operations. Multiple committees have been hard at work to thoughtfully move every aspect of this project forward. Our leadership has great forward vision for the future of libraries embracing evolving technology and the changing ways we use the library. The team strive to create for New Canaan a library that can deliver innovative life-long learning services to the community at the highest level in a purpose built building that is efficient and adaptable. It cannot be emphasized enough that the earliest supporters have been so generously enthusiastic about the proposed design that 179 families have pledged/contributed $16 million. 

The new New Canaan Library will be a well needed boost to our town, a functional and beautiful building with an inviting library green. It will invigorate our downtown and draw even more users to enjoy the variety of programs and our excellent collections. Let’s move forward New Canaan and dismiss the noise of naysayers and focus on the positive and what will enhance our town and serve our residents best for generations. 

Lydee Hummel

6 thoughts on “Letter on Library: ‘Dismiss the Noise of Naysayers’

  1. Suffice to say, The Friends of Our 1913 Library are hard at work developing pro forma financial analyses and feasibility studies to address the very important points raised in this letter. We are very aware that the town is reluctant to take on another older building. Our goal is to show how the 1913 building can be a standalone income producing entity with no taxpayer or library burden. The 1913 library is much different from the other buildings the town owns. It’s in town on a prominent corner, the entry to Main Street, and we have not been presented with detailed financials, evidence, data, studies by experts, as to why the Library Board wants to demolish it. The “town fathers” vote, and there’s some mothers on the Town Council, in John Engel’s words from a Town Council transcript from June 3, 2020 meeting regarding a 10-2 in favor of not holding up 10 million for library funding: “I think the only thing that we decided was that the Town Council was not going to hold up its commitment to a library over that question. It doesn’t mean that we can’t..It doesn’t mean that all twelve of us, ALL TWELVE of us are not incredibly sad to see the old library go. And most of the Library Board members are incredibly sad to the 1913 building not part of the plans. And I think that many of us, most of us still hope that maybe there’a solution where we can have our cake and eat it too. What was decided was that the Town Council was not going to hold up the ten million dollars. That all we decided”. We, the Friends of the 1913 Library, want and deserve to have our cake and eat it too. Since 1996, according to library financials, the taxpayer has contributed 41,359,193 dollars to the library. So in all reality, it’s public entity that can not be controlled by 175 donors when weighed against the voices of 18,000 plus taxpayers.

  2. Hi Lyndee I hear you on the ‘noise’ from many sides. I think a pretty good way to try to solve this issue for the community is to take it to a town vote in November. This is an important enough issue to let the voters decide and be educated on the issue over the Summer and Fall (as well as many details worked out by various town committees and presented). Remember the proposal was rolled out in mid January and we have basically been locked down since mid March.
    It appears like people now are just loudly (and often) trying to push specific agenda’s without really listening to what the other side is asking for. From a Library perspective folks would like a new building that is functional as soon as possible. From a Preservationist perspective folks would like to keep the small original building. From a taxpayer perspective folks would like to know what residents are really on the hook for – now an into the future (i.e. maximum financial exposure – remember just since January costs have gone up by $5m).
    None of these issues are unreasonable, and I expect a very good compromise can be found if people sit down (or zoom) and work together to find a solution.
    This does not appear to be the case now and instead we have a lot of letters and direct lobbying of elected officials to get votes to pull it one way or the other (i.e. not a really pure democratic process for what is a town asset). In the backdrop of this we have an ongoing pandemic including significant job losses, kids out of school for 6+ months with an unknown type of reopening for the Fall, and many other issues i.e. hardly normal times and very different from when the project was designed and community feedback and pledges received.
    Most projects benefit from strong feedback, and I expect this one will as well, and if we can get the whole town behind the project, that would be really awesome and make this transformation of the Library even better!

  3. The last town in the area, or even in the state, to build a new library? Is keeping up with the Joneses the reason for wanting a new building? Spending money to keep up with the Joneses is not something that I personally respect. One might also say that New Canaan was the FIRST to build a new library, well in the forefront, since we built in 1979. You may laugh, but I remember the celebration for the opening of the current rendition of the library. I’m pretty sure none of us at that grand opening celebration (complete with a band) expected to be needing another new library building so soon.

    The current huge library building (stand back and look at the block from Main St) was needed because the collection of books and media had vastly outgrown the prior building. Oddly, the reason for needing this new building (specious reasons about keeping up with the Joneses aside) isn’t because the collections outgrew the space. It’s because libraries have morphed. Now libraries want meeting rooms for events, presentations, and even for local organizations to use for their meetings. The purpose of a library has morphed to providing computers and internet for those who don’t have them, serving as an emergency daytime shelter so we can recharge our phones during power outages, teaching people of all ages how to use modern technologies (e.g., 3D printers), and educational/cultural enrichment presentations.

    Proponents of the new building also say the current building is decrepit. A question that has been asked by others and not answered yet is whether that’s because of poor upkeep. If so, will upkeep of a new building be any better? Towns — and maybe not-for-profits, too — do not make good landlords, because perpetually tight budgets often cause deferred maintenance; also, a preference for floating huge bonds (or fundraising drives) for huge projects rather than saving regularly to fund replacing a roof/boiler/etc. If the leaks and other issues in the current building are caused by poor construction, rather than poor upkeep, will the new building be constructed any better? Are we seeing a trend of declining workmanship over the years?

    The design of the proposed building is attractive and in keeping with New Canaan’s look, at least on the outside (the video doesn’t give me much idea what the inside looks like), although I am surprised that they didn’t incorporate the original building, as prior expansions did. Two questions that haven’t been floated about yet: 1) Will the 300-seat auditorium have a sloped floor so people can see over the heads of the people in front? 2) Indications are that children’s rooms are the most heavily used part of modern libraries, at least for the original purpose of libraries. Has full attention been paid, therefore, to designing a wonderful children’s room?

    Lastly, I am dismayed that this letter and another recent letter in the NewCanaanite have descended to disparaging & belittling the opposition, rather than maintaining a logical, constructive, civil debate between the many good people who happen to have differing views from one another. Could we please restore New Canaan’s locally-famous civility, respect, and good manners while we, as a town, try to decide what’s best to do?

    • Thank you so much for your interest in the design of the proposed New, New Canaan Library. I think perhaps you’ve not yet seen the full video https://www.newcanaannewlibrary.org/the-video since it does answer many of your questions here – including the importance of the children’s Library to the project and the nature of the auditorium – which will likely have a flat floor and a high stage that will enable its use for many more functions than simply theatre style presentations.

  4. I am among a growing chorus of New Canaanites who actively oppose the demolition of our historic library building built in 1913. The library is a private public partnership between the Library Foundation and the Town of New Canaan. The building is technically private property so we should have no say in its destruction. Except that we citizens provide the lion’s share of the funds to support the Foundation. The Library now seeking from the town a $10 million (up from an original $5 million) contribution toward its demolition and the construction of a new facility.

    Let me set aside the notion that we who oppose the destruction of the 1913 structure oppose the library. I have yet to meet anyone who doesn’t value the library and its central place in our community. But there is something to be learned from the manner in which the Library Foundation has prosecuted its case. It is filled with vagaries, misstatements and deceit.

    There are no finished construction drawings of the new structure or detailed construction estimates. The amount of funds pledged by generous donors – whose identities are closely guarded (curious that) – and that which has been actually donated is veiled. One can fairly wonder the consequences if the new construction ran short of funds to complete the project, we taxpayers would doubtless be burdened with the shortfall.

    They claim that the 1913 building is decrepit and water logged. That it would require millions to rehabilitate it as a free standing structure. That the only hope for its salvation is to move to another site – knowing, given the nature of its masonry construction, that is a practical impossibility. Several architects experienced in historic preservation have inspected the building, found it quite sound and have estimated a cost of something on the order of $700,000 to disentangle it from the claptrap leaky modern structure it is bound to. To further their case the Foundation has created and bandied about at public hearings a clever piece of propaganda, a rendering of the 1913 building as an eyesore blocking out the proposed shinny new magnificence of their rubble and glass architectural confection.

    Well, then, one new to this issue might fairly ask why can’t both structures old and new coexist? Because the Foundation insists the new modern library building must exist esthetically unopposed by the presence of the historic old. Central to the their new vision for the site is a small green not much larger than a tennis court, on the land currently occupied by the historic Library. Their vision of a town green is one that abuts a gas station, overlooks another gas station and a parking lot. It’s hard to argue with green space if even this tiny sliver but there is mercifully no shortage of green-sword in New Canaan, Mead Park is just two blocks away. In short one has to wonder why the Foundation is pursing this project in such a duplicitous fashion rather than purely on it merits.

    Thirty-five years ago I was looking for a town to raise my six kids. The schools here were compelling but it was the bookstore and the library that sealed the deal. Any town that so valued books was where I wanted them raised. Added to that was visual beauty of the town. God’s acre is storybook New England, which even Norman Rockwell couldn’t improve upon. With that we have the 1913 New Canaan Library arguably the finest piece of civic architecture in New Canaan. It is a marvelous combination of classical style and detailing mixed with a rusticated facade. A deft carefully articulated convergence of the urbane and the country. It is tragic to consider this town would conspire to sacrifice this historic treasure for the sake of a lawn. And sadder still that the effort is prosecuted in such a conscienceless manner.

    The new library isn’t at stake here only the old. Let’s permit the citizens of New Canaan the choice to oppose the demolition of this magnificent piece of our community’s historical heritage. Let’s put it to a vote.

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