NewCanaanite.com recently received the following Letters to the Editor.
As a little girl growing up in New Canaan, I can remember the adults in my life discussing the need for upgrades and expansions to the library we frequented so often. For the 30+ years my family and I have lived in New Canaan our town has desperately needed a new library.
Living elsewhere and working in education underscored just how integral to a community’s well-being a library is —how expansive an institution it can be —and fostered a deeper respect for our librarians who currently do so much with, frankly, so little.
When I moved back to town full time and watched the state of the art rebuilds of surrounding towns’ libraries, I excitedly anticipated the day our own new library would open its doors. I eagerly pored over the design plans as soon as they were shared and learned about each arduous decision the board had made to arrive at their final plans, and quickly understood maintaining the structure that was the crux of many childhood memories was not a viable, safe, or fiscally sound option. The sadness and sentimentality I felt toward the loss of the old building did not eclipse my joyful anticipation of a new space that would better serve our community, as feelings —while valid —are not facts.
In recent weeks,I have heard and seen arguments against the new library include commentary regarding the accessibility of the new library. I do not take access lightly; as a disabled person and advocate, access is nearly always at the forefront of my mind. Living in a society designed for bodies that do not look or function like mine requires that of me.
I’ll admit; when I saw ADA accessibility used as rationale to preserve the 1913 building, I was completely perplexed. I have not seen a lack of compliance in the plans that have been presented by the library and, further, any concerns I have had were addressed directly by the
library, which has been incredibly receptive of questions and conversations around inclusivity. This spirit of collaboration has not surprised me, but has been the norm throughout my life and my relationship with the New Canaan Library.
Inclusivity and access are central tenets of a library’s work. In fact, librarians are committed to equity and inclusion perhaps more than any other profession, certainly at the intersection of academia and public service. Their very careers are defined by accessibility of every kind, in general.
Disabled people are often erased from conversations, discussed only in terms of compliance — generally to mitigate potential financial risk, or used as a bargaining chip. Institutions worry about meeting bare minimums based on generalizations without considering the hopes, dreams, and desires of those who require those access needs —the very people libraries like ours seek to serve, and serve well. I recognize that my education, knowledge, and lived experiences are hardly monolithic, and I encourage those with access needs to reach out to the library themselves with questions and comments.
As it stands and with regards to accessibility, our current library is inadequate. There is so much room for it to grow to support all members of our community. Painstaking and exhaustive work has taken place over the last decade that has proven that this growth is not possible while this hundred-year-old structure remains in place. It is shameful to me that anyone would weaponize accessibility in their rationale to determine a structure’s fate, particularly when the delay inhibits the very progress for which New Canaan has been waiting decades.
A library is more than its storage of books or its offering of programming, and more than the walls that contain either. A library is a portal to a world we can otherwise only dream of. I wholeheartedly support the new New Canaan Library, and the world residents like me will be able to access once its doors are opened.
I am a resident of Stamford, Connecticut. I am an avid outdoor enthusiast. I am writing to express my concern regarding the pesticide application at Waveny Park dated 4/10/21. I visited and felt this was toxic. Is there anything we can do about this? I am wondering if you can appreciate how damaging the application of harmful toxins is to the vibrance of the local ecosystems and the natural habitat of wildlife. The process creates ripple effects in the New Canaan water supply and public health in our community. Are you willing to discuss alternative approaches to pest management and landscape biodiversity? I am not a certified landscape architect, nor am I affiliated with any local business activity related to lawn care. I am a concerned patron. I am hoping to share and appreciate the beauty and abundant opportunities in harmony with the natural environment that Waveny Park provides New Canaan residents and greater Fairfield County outdoor enthusiasts, for many years to come. Thank you for your attention to this matter. I look forward to hearing from. You and to collaborate on what we love. Warm regards,
As a New Canaan resident for over two decades, and a past owner of a 1764 antique colonial in our great town, I have always been very sensitive to the balancing of old and new, of honoring the rich history and traditions of this town, while also recognizing that time marches on and that, in the aggregate, most progress is for the better (hence the wifi, wine fridge and central AC in our centuries-old saltbox colonial).
As I follow the quickly escalating and increasingly vocal divisions between the supporters of the “new” New Canaan Library (which I fully support building) and the supporters of concurrently retaining the original modest footprint of the historically beloved and architecturally significant 1913 Library as part of the final plan, my perspective is simple – we can, and should, be able to have both, because if this town does anything well, it is keeping New Canaan one of the most desirable towns in the nation in terms of housing, schools and resources while still retaining it’s comfortable, safe and aesthetically unique “small town” feel.
If the options are retaining and repurposing the 1913 library structure in its original, fairly modest footprint, or tearing it down entirely for additional lawn space as part of the overall new library plan, the choices seem pretty obvious:
Form: The timeless and sturdy grey stone façade of the 1913 library is, to me, part of Connecticut’s architectural DNA, as found in grander scale in the buildings of culture and learning at Yale, Trinity, and elsewhere across the state. It is a solid, classic and and, dare I say, iconic landmark in its current location. Another half-acre “village green/bio-swale” of grass, bushes and benches abutting a gas station and facing a parking lot is, frankly, not quite as aesthetically inspiring to me.
Function: I can easily see the 1913 structure repurposed for any number of popular community and/or commercial functions. Intimate art exhibitions, small acoustic concerts and prestigious lectures, a beautiful catering and meeting space for paid private events, or an additional community resource for classes or affinity group meetings. A “village green” that is, in reality, too small to host town-wide events like those held at Waveny, or that lacks the picnic-perfect pond setting of Mead Park, or that can’t capture the magical spirit of Christmas Eve caroling on God’s Acre, or that lacks the bucolic rambles of the Nature Center or Grace Farms, is, frankly, not nearly as functional or appealing to me.
Finance: This is where the competing local agendas really come out, as no one really seems to be telling taxpayers a straight story on numbers on either side. But, common sense and experience tells me that it is cheaper to retain and upgrade an otherwise sound structure than it is to fully tear it down, remediate and redesign an entire site, and that it is also financially wiser to have a revenue-generating and/or philanthropically-supported structure as part of the final plan than a hyper-landscaped backyard which, depending on who you talk to, will actually cost more to develop, landscape and maintain than preserving the 1913 Library itself. (Spoiler alert – keeping the 1913 still allows for a perfectly decent sized plot of open green space/event space/public seating surrounding the two buildings.
Finally, these past few years of national and local politics have, if nothing else, made me a bit of a cynic on the ulterior motives of almost everything done in the name of the “public’s best interest” with so little actual public disclosure or discussion.
Without the retention and/or easement of the 1913 Library in its current location, the selectmen, the library board, a developer, or a combination of all three could much more easily decide a few years down the road that, alas, the “village green” had not really lived up to its grand expectations, and the newly “reclaimed” acreage (essentially a large, perfectly-sited premium parcel of readily buildable land) will be carved off the original library footprint and quietly sold off to commercial developers for even more retail space or residential development in an already over-stuffed downtown. I’ve seen it happen here before. And so have most of you.
That is my take as a taxpayer, a lover of New Canaan heritage and history, and a firm believer in the art of compromise, where nobody gets exactly what they want in the end.
Time to trim a bit off the “village green”, and find a new role for the 1913…
Our future is here now.
This past year has been a difficult one for all of us. Now is the time to decide.
Do we want to adhere to the past or are we ready to embrace the future?
The New Canaan Library is a tremendous asset to our town and is an institution that provides cultural enrichment and lifelong learning opportunities for the citizens of our community. The New Canaan Library is a private, non-profit entity. While the library receives the majority of its annual operating expenses from the Town, the library owns the land on which it sits. The library has worked very hard to conceptualize its replacement and to raise the funds needed to provide our town with a library of tomorrow and beyond.
As we are about to embark on the necessary and urgent replacement of an old and deficient structure, a sincere Preservationist group has sprung up attempting to save the iconic façade, also known as the 1913 building. However, this structure is not appropriate for incorporation into the new plans. In fact, the library and its donors do not desire to retain the 1913 “building”. What remains of this old building is unfortunately saddled with asbestos and mold, and remediation efforts would be very costly. Where was the Preservationist group decades ago before it was merged into the current library? The portion of the building that many of us recognize and love is unfortunately past its useful value. Perhaps it could be repurposed in a different form on another piece of property, and perhaps sufficient funds could be raised for that purpose.
On the other hand, the bold and beautiful proposal for an environmentally friendly, sustainable building to house the library of the twenty-first century with its accompanying town green is very thoughtfully designed and offers a new public space that will serve both as a cultural asset and a tourist attraction. At a time when our downtown district has been decimated by economic losses due to the pandemic, building a new library for the future will serve as a catalyst for the revitalization of our business community. I urge fellow citizens to support a plan for the future rather than cling to the past.