NewCanaanite.com recently received the following letters.
To the Editor:
Waveny LifeCare Network, together with Visiting Nurse & Hospice of Fairfield County (VNHFC), would like to thank everyone who helped plan and who volunteered at our first New Canaan Thrift Shop Grand Summer Tag Sale on June 12th. Thank you also to those who donated merchandise and who came out to shop last Saturday. The event was a tremendous success and we were so grateful to be back out in the community, seeing old friends and welcoming new ones after enduring the Covid-19 pandemic. Not only did we raise money for unfunded patient care, but we attracted new volunteers and increased awareness of the Shop and its’ non-profit mission to support our communities.
Thank you to the Town of New Canaan for their support of the event and help in managing event logistics. Special thanks to Ralph Lauren, Vineyard Vines, The New Canaan Fire Department, SLOBS, The Democrat Town Committee and the Republican Town Committee.
The New Canaan Thrift Shop has been in operation for over 90 years and is one of the oldest volunteer-run thrift shops in the country. Proceeds from the Shop help benefit unfunded VNHFC patient care, which exceeds $1M annually.
Tracey M. Hamill
Board Chair of Community Engagement Waveny LifeCare Network
I wish to thank the Commissioners of our Planning and Zoning Commission for their dedication to the issues of planning, zoning and development in our town. The proposed new library project and the fate of the 1913 library building is one that is destined to have long-lasting and wide-spread impact and is highly worthy of great consideration.
Over the course of this matter, there have been many topics, many discussions. Since the reveal by the Library of its planned new design in January of 2020, the project seemed to hit the ground running with the sense there was no looking back, no pause to take a careful look. The existing library, including its original 1913 core, which through renovations and additions had always remained as the cornerstone for the library, was now seen as an unfortunate loss in the path of what was stated to be a greater good.
A review of archival information related to the New Canaan Library in the New Canaan Museum and Historical Society exhibited a town-wide deep appreciation for the original portion of the building. All these documents and images reflect and support an established appreciation for that which was thoughtfully created by our predecessors. Contained therein was the single thread, the original 1913 building was and is important to our community. Have we lost our understanding of progress toward the future, while not obliterating the past?
Indeed, throughout the years, town leaders and planners have recognized those images, both natural and manmade that make New Canaan special. They have drafted documents which reflect this understanding and have followed the findings and the regulations in those documents to protect what matters and has mattered to its citizens. One need only to look at some of the most recent of these documents to see that the image of the 1913 Library figures prominently among the buildings that matter.
I ask our Town leaders to continue to adhere to that which matters to New Canaan, yesterday, today, and tomorrow, as it has since the 1913 Library was built. I ask our Town leaders to act as though what it decides in this current matter will have impact forever on the character of our community not only visually and atmospherically but also cerebrally. As a colleague told me recently reflecting on the potential loss of the 1913 Library building, “It will be too bad if New Canaan loses it Mojo, but there will be other places in Connecticut that will still have theirs intact”.
Rose-Scott Long Rothbart
To Editor NewCanaanite:
In Colonial America, the King of England had the right to mark eastern white pines found in New England so that these trees could be harvested by the Royal Navy and used as masts for the fleet’s sailing ships. The owners of the land were not compensated for these trees and were fined if they cut them down. This practice was one of the many grievances of the Colonists against the British which brought about the American Revolution.
The antique 1913 library is like an eastern white pine which has been marked by many citizens for preservation, thereby infringing upon the library’s plans for a new structure.
Good arguments have been made on both sides resulting in a stalemate confronting the P&Z, the Town Council and the Selectmen.
My recommendation, as a former member of the Town Council for fourteen years, is to add two million dollars to the Town’s current contribution of ten million dollars which would allow the library to preserve the antique 1913 library structure in its present location. This solution would allow a quick settlement of the stalemate and save the funds otherwise spent in needless delays and litigation.
About 40 years ago the town government decided that Center School, a wonderful historic school in the center of town that had been the home school for thousands of children over its history, needed to be torn down to make room for parking. We were told that parking was essential for the growth of the town and it is one of the most important considerations of the POCD. It was insisted that the whole building must be torn down, although the newest addition to that building was less than 40 years old and contained a gym/auditorium with stage combination, locker rooms, bathrooms, a commercial kitchen and dining room as well as much classroom space. That wing of the building could have become a wonderful community center or teen center, but the powers that be determined that the whole building needed to be demolished even though there would have still been lots of room for parking. Those of us who have been in town for over 40 years still wonder at the wisdom of that move– It could have been a very special asset to the town of New Canaan.
Now the New Canaan Library wishes to demolish the original 1913 and 1936 portions of the New Canaan library because a lawn is essential to their vision of a new library. The original buildings which are in good shape and have a plan for rehabilitation could be used for many functions. That building would occupy 1/10th of the space that will be occupied by the new library building. And because of the lack of due diligence by the library, the town will lose seventy-six of those valuable Center School Lot parking spaces to library patrons because the Library is abandoning its current on-site fifty-three spaces!
The town gave those of us who treasured Center School a few square feet on the corner of Maple and South Avenue (right outside where my classroom was) where we were allowed to erect a tower that contained the old original school bell from Center School. That was our consolation. The New Canaan Library Committee in an insulting gesture has offered to build a 10-foot by 20-foot memorial pavilion made using aspects of the front of the original 1913 New Canaan Library. Please don’t let another classic, historic and useful building be destroyed and replaced with a token structure.
I do not understand why the town can’t have a new library unless the old library is demolished. Ms. Oldham has said if there is a re-design, the library will have to give donors their money back. Has she asked them? The Simpson plan seems to provide for the new building design to remain on the property side by side with the 1913 building. Changes to the landscape would need to be made, and she might want to offer the donors their money back, but she would not necessarily need to give all donations back as she states.
The decision by Planning and Zoning needs to be carefully considered, especially given the guidelines stated by the Plan of Conservation and Development and Town of New Canaan Village District Design Plan. The Planning and Zoning Commissioners meet on Tuesday, June 29th.
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 giving year, 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.
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
Most memorials commemorate a loved one or a tragic event. But at this point in time, in the case of the 1913 library, those wanting to memorialize it have no love for it. Our current library board has, for over a year and a half, said they wanted to be able to level the building to make a green. An earlier memorial idea was a limited edition coffee table book and a wall. The eleventh hour thought to memorialize the 1913 building is a very small section of facade in the back of the planned green. This suggests, as the other memorial ideas do, that the 1913 Library has to “die” – but it doesn’t have to, and it shouldn’t.
The 1913 Library has been deemed in very good condition, and of historic value by the independent architectural firm, requested by Planning and Zoning. The building – not a little piece of it, should be protected by our Village District Design Guidelines and Plan of Conservation and Development.
For more than one hundred years of the life of the 1913 building, our New Canaan Library proudly made the 1913 Library its logo. Each time an addition was made, the old building was honored in the process, complimenting the original building’s architecture. The NCL says that they tried to incorporate the building in 12 different renderings, but were not successful. I would say that all they had to do in the first place was tell the architects of Centerbrook Architects & Planners that they wanted to save the 1913 Library building, and the architects would have done just that.
If that had been done – the last year and a half of divisiveness in our town would never have happened.
Patricia Funt Oxman
I suspect that the New Canaan Library’s 2018 strategy of keeping their rebuilding plans hidden from the community at-large, while revealing the plans to targeted donors only, is now seen by many as a mistake. I agree.
It was frustrating to me, because, as editor of New Canaan Advertiser at the time, I knew plans were being revealed to select residents, yet they were being kept secret from the full community. Those who saw the plans may have been sworn to secrecy too, because even my best sources would not provide information about the plans even off the record.
New Canaan Library directors knew in 2018 that there would be opposition to demolishing the library’s Main Street facade. The business strategy evidently was first to gather financial support for the secret plan, which included full demolition, and then reveal the plan to the media and full community with presumed sufficient support. I trust the library paid a good sum to a consultant for that advice.
If there had been true openness and transparency years ago about the building plans for the new New Canaan Library, the current controversary and division may have been avoided, and a resolution could have been reached in a mutually respectful manner in due time. Hiding plans from the general public about something so important as the local library could have been foreseen as a flawed strategy, especially because millions of taxpayer dollars are involved.
New Canaan and its people are exceptional. The way to manage successful community relations here is not found in a textbook. It is found on Main Street.
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