NewCanaanite.com recently received the following letters.
I had the honor to attend New Canaan High School graduation last week to watch my son Nicolas graduate. Allowing parents and family to be part of this in person ceremony was a gift for which I’m extremely grateful, in keeping with Bill Egan’s emphasis on gratitude in his speech to the Class of 2021. [Superintendent of Schools] Dr. [Bryan] Luizzi received a standing ovation from crowd for his work over the past 16 months in leading our school district during a worldwide pandemic and setting a gold standard: New Canaan Public School’s doors were open to in-person learning 97% of the school year! During Covid, our New Canaan schools led the nation in making timely decisions that balanced our kids’ education and health while dealing with risks and uncertainty. Congratulations and well done! New Canaan’s school decisions were based on the data we had. Today, the best data we currently have access to is extremely promising when it comes to risks to our kids and staff especially given that over 92% of our certified school staff, and over 86% of employees overall, are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 heading into the summer. That makes it quite likely that we should be able to start the next school year in New Canaan mask free. Let’s move onward by allowing the masks to come off for the fall.
We are sure everyone can agree, the last year has been rather difficult. As co-presidents of New Canaan Beautification League, we never expected that we would be forced to transition our programs onto Zoom or that our volunteers would be wearing masks while gardening throughout town. However, we couldn’t be more proud of our volunteers who took these changes and challenges in stride – worked to keep our programs open and accessible to the public and kept beautifying New Canaan.
However, all of our work would not be possible without the help of our community members who donated to our Annual Appeal. We would not have been able to continue our work of creating and maintaining the Mead Park plaza, pollinator garden at the mailbox drop on Pine Street, triangles throughout town, The Gold Star Walk, supplying the town with over 220 hanging baskets, creating floral arrangements for Waveny Care Center and more. Of course, we would be remiss if we did not mention Lee Memorial Garden which is open to the public and once again put on a stunning azalea display this Spring. Your donations have allowed us to continue our work beautifying New Canaan and we thank you.
If you would like to contribute to our Annual Appeal, please visit our website at newcanaanbeautification.org. New members are always welcome and gardening experience is not required. Once again, thank you so much for your support. As life returns to normal, we are happy to say that New Canaan is certainly in bloom.
Over $58,000 in grants were awarded to fourteen charities based in Fairfield County by the Young Women’s League of New Canaan to conclude their 2020-2021 givingyear, Local Giving, Lasting Impact. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the YWL changed course and reinvented all of their traditional fundraising events to be held virtually. “During a year of such uncertainty and hardship, we felt it was important to get creative and come up with new ways to fundraise in order to support the many local organizations hardest hit by the pandemic,” said YWL Presidents Natalie McPartland and Danielle McRedmond. “Not only did we see an unbelievable amount of support from the community for these reinvented events, we’ve never had higher participation in our service drives and volunteer opportunities from our membership.”
Grant recipients include Filling in the Blanks, Circle of Care, Getabout, Open Doors Shelter, DOMUS Kids, Malta House, Domestic Violence Crisis Center, and Food Bank of Lower Fairfield County. Lindsay Burns, VP of Charity Research said, “In a year where many could have chosen to do less due to limited resources, we were inspired by how these organizations managed to go above and beyond for the communities at large who needed them now more than ever. Whether they were providing help at the most basic level with food and shelter, or providing rides to our most vulnerable populations, we continue to be inspired by their efforts and look forward to brighter days ahead for our local communities with their help.”
The YWL is grateful to the over 100 women who volunteered to make this year successful. These members along with league sponsors Porsche Greenwich, Ashley Petraska of William Pitt/Sotheby’s, and Walter Stewart’s Market are committed to making a local impact. The YWL begins a new giving year later this month focused on Women. Our theme is “Empowering Women, Nurturing Families”. To apply for a grant, visit https://www.ywlnewcanaan.org/Apply-For-A-Grant. The application deadline is September 1, 2021. The YWL welcomes new members who are looking to get involved in our community.
Co-President, Young Women’s League of New Canaan
I grew up and went to school in New Canaan. Several months ago, I became aware of the controversy surrounding whether the 1913 library building can and should be preserved when the new New Canaan Library is built.
Having now done quite a bit of study and investigation on this issue, I believe that the 1913 building can be preserved in its present location, in harmonious combination with the new library facility. Keith Simpson’s plan provides one illustration of how that can be accomplished.
While I no longer reside in New Canaan, it is my hometown. In late September this year, I will return, as I do every several years, this time for my 50th high school reunion (NCHS Class of 1971).
Given my desire to see the 1913 building preserved, as the library moves forward with the construction of its new facility, I have made a commitment to contribute $50,000 in personal funds, to support the renovation and repurposing of the 1913 Building, provided that the New Canaan Library, the town of New Canaan, and those advocating for preservation can reach agreement on keeping the 1913 building, with 1936 addition, intact in its current location.
I will attach here a copy of my April 5, 2021, letter to the Planning and Zoning Commission, which provides additional detail on my background and thinking.
The P&Z Commission is expected to vote June 29 to approve or disapprove the Library’s plans. I fear that New Canaan is about to become the victim of the new New Canaan Library’s highly persuasive advertising campaign.
One highly persuasive tactic is the underlying presumption that ‘everybody’ wants this plan. A news article I read said that what actually changes people’s minds during political campaigns is the feeling that everyone else feels that way. We’re social creatures. The feeling that there’s a groundswell of support for the new library means that many people with a differing view hesitate to speak. What percentage of residents actually use the library?
The phrase ‘town green’ is another persuasive tactic. ‘Town green’ evokes warm, fuzzy, nostalgic feelings, the feeling that we’re going to have good times there. Referring to it as a lawn doesn’t evoke the same feelings. Try this statement: ‘We feel that a lawn is more valuable than the historic 1913 library.’ What feelings does that evoke?
The Library’s video and marketing depict people enjoying the proposed new green, patio, and new seating on Cherry St. The current library has two library greens – Christine’s Garden and the lawn in front of the 1913 section. Town Hall has another nice green. Historically, God’s Acre is New Canaan’s Town Green. Except for Library events or watching the Memorial Day parade, I rarely see anyone using any of these greens. That’s in good weather — the weather is unconducive much of the year.
Some proponents of the new library seem to think that New Canaan will suffer an economic recession if we don’t build a new library. I have seen no evidence to support that. The economic impact study that the Library commissioned did not have enough information to determine the economic impact of the new library. If we don’t build the new library, I would assume the Library would continue doing its current stellar job in the current building and the Library’s economic contribution to Town would continue to be the same as currently; and Town government would save money.
One justification for the new building is that the current (1979) building is in bad shape. I suspect that long-deferred maintenance is the problem (how many years has the roof leaked?). One reason for deferred maintenance is to justify a new building. A better reason is that if one’s planning to build a new building, it doesn’t make sense to pour money into the current one.
The architects’ video shows the proposed new building as beautiful, bathed in computer-generated light giving it a golden glow. What will it look like in reality, without the computer-generated lighting?
The new building is touted as handicapped accessible. Why does it only have one elevator and no other way down than stairs? If the elevator breaks down or can’t be used (e.g., during a fire), anyone who can’t handle stairs will be trapped on the upper floors. The one elevator is not centrally located, but rather is on the far opposite side from the main entrance. The handicapped parking spaces are across the street, except for the four spaces the Library recently added. There have been accessibility complaints about the one handicapped drop-off place. And there’s no drive-up book drop.
Likewise, the much-touted new library green has accessibility issues. The planned green is a long way from the parking for anybody who has mobility issues who wants to attend events there, and it’s on a slope. Wheelchairs are hard to use on grass. The currently-level lawn in front of the 1913 building would be regraded to make a gentle slope from Cherry St. up to the new building. The Library touts the sidewalk across it as an ADA-compliant, handicapped accessible way to access the library from Cherry St. Would you like to push a wheelchair uphill for that distance?
The retention areas for stormwater runoff are advertised as attractive areas planted with interesting plants. There’s one in Irwin Park (not nicely planted), next to the walking path. One can’t walk across such areas — too steep, too wet, too overgrown. That also makes it hard to maintain as an attractive garden. They quickly become overgrown, ugly. This is a congested area, risking people falling into them, getting hurt. If land is in short supply and lawn is valuable, why not put the stormwater management underground instead?
Pollinator pathway plantings and native, drought-resistant plants are buzzwords that bring in another contingent of supporters. Pollinator plants can be planted anywhere, even on the rooftop garden. In reality, the plantings planned along Main St., described to sound attractive, will interfere with the enjoyment of people trying to watch the Memorial Day parade, as will the slope. Maintaining all these plantings (‘green’, retention areas, wildlife area, children’s garden, rooftop garden) will increase operating costs.
Publicity emphasizes how much money the Library has raised and glosses over the financial risks. The Library has $16M in donations, half as promises. If P&Z approves the plan, the Library has persuaded the Town to contribute another $10M. However, the project is now expected to cost $39M, and some people have estimated significantly more ($48M?). The Library has persuaded a bank to give them a $15M construction/destruction loan, bringing total funds to $41M. What income does the Library have to pay the loan payments? Since the Town pays 70% of the Library’s operating costs, will the Town really be paying the loan payments? Are any more big donations likely (if they don’t preserve the 1913 section), or has the Library already pretty much drained the well?
The Library is now saying that if this plan isn’t approved, they’ll throw in the towel, return donations, there won’t be any new library building. This is playing hardball, trying to get what they want by intimidation, instead of compromising or coming up with a better plan, something the whole town could support.
The Library has gotten New Canaanites excited about the prospect of a new building. Logically, trying to separate out the glow of the advertising, is it a good choice? The new building is only a little bigger than the current building. In return, it occupies most of the block, eliminates almost all the current parking, and needlessly destroys the historic 1913/1936 section. The new green replaces the current two greens but, unlike Christine’s Garden, is not very useable. Handicapped accessibility appears worse, not better. The new auditorium is only a little bigger than the current one, but you’ll still mostly see the backs of the heads in front of you, because the floor isn’t sloped. There’s no drive-up book drop – you’ll have to park and walk in. We haven’t seen an estimate of operating costs, but the plantings/gardens suggest increased costs. And there’s a risk the Town may have to bail out the project.
A good library is determined by its programs, collections, and people — both staff and clientele — not by the building.
Barbara B. Mason
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