NewCanaanite.com received the following Letters to the Editor.
Claims have been made that the proposed new library could bring in $6.6M to local businesses. I just discovered the economic impact study behind that number is posted on the Town’s web site. It makes for interesting reading. One issue is that $6.6M is the high estimate; the low estimate is only $346K. A bigger issue is that there is a major flaw in the logic, making the results meaningless.
The report summarizes how they arrived at the number. Here’s the gist of it: Basically, they did a survey of library patrons in June-July 2019. Survey questions asked if they patronized other local businesses or activities while in town for their current/last trip to the library (58% said ‘yes’) and, if so, which businesses (generically; the survey provided a long list of types of businesses) and approximately how much did they spend at each of those businesses. The New Canaan Library automatically tallies the number of people entering the doors (800-1000 daily, no elimination of duplicates). From that information, they were able to calculate how much library patrons currently spend in town. They then studied other library construction projects in the State (1998-2017), including two subsets to try to narrow it down to communities like New Canaan, to see how much the renovation/construction projects increased the number of visits, using that to calculate the expected increase in local spending.
The flaw in the logic is that the survey did not ask library patrons whether they would have gone to those stores anyway and how much they would have spent if they hadn’t gone to the library. The top four businesses patronized were grocery stores, banks, the Post Office, and restaurants/cafés. Would people spend just as much at these businesses, with the possible exception of restaurants, whether or not they went to the library? Without the answer to that question, there is no way of knowing how much business the library is or will draw to New Canaan.
The survey also did not ask which destination was the main purpose of the trip. Most people combine multiple errands/activities in one trip. For people interviewed in-person while attending a library event, it’s a safe bet that the event was the main purpose. For others, who just dropped in during the day, was one of their kid’s activities elsewhere in town or running errands the primary purpose? Hypothetically (playing devil’s advocate), it makes just as much sense to say that one or more particular businesses (or all the stores collectively) are driving visits to the library as to say that the library is driving business to the stores. We just don’t have the information.
Of interest, out-of-towners made up 42% of library patrons surveyed in-person (25% of those surveyed by email). If the authors (CERC) could extract from their source data the amount spent by out-of-towners, that might be more relevant, but we still wouldn’t know what primarily drew them to New Canaan.
Another major issue is the guesstimate of how much the new building will increase library usage. CERC did their best to pick a reasonable number, but it’s an unknown. Of the 53 libraries they studied, the percent change in visits after construction ranged from a 38% decrease (New London) to a 500% increase (Scotland) and the peak number of visits varied from 0 to 17 years after construction. Four libraries actually saw a decrease in visits and another three saw no change in visits after construction. Of nearby libraries, Darien had an 8% increase, Wilton 15%, Greenwich 17%, Westport 40%, and Norwalk 42%. CERC settled on using a range of 3% – 40% increase (the range for towns of comparable affluence) and 2-6 years to reach the peak. They actually published three different estimates – low, middle, and high – for the increase in spending 6 years after construction, which worked out to $346K, $3.0M, and $6.6M, respectively.
Another fuzzy factor: CERC’s calculations assume that, despite an increased number of visits to the new library, people will continue to spend about the same amount per trip at local businesses.
The report was completed in January 2020, before the pandemic. The pandemic throws another whammy into any guesses about the future.
As the report points out, the library contributes to the local economy in many ways, of course. It employs almost 50 people, 40% of whom live in New Canaan, and employs youths in part-time jobs. It regularly does business with about 56 local vendors, and many of the presenters at library events are local. Overall, the New Canaan Library does business with over 200 local businesses and people. Over the prior five years (FY2015-FY2019), the New Canaan Library spent an average of $250,469 per year on local contractors and businesses. The report points out many other economic benefits of the library that aren’t so easily quantifiable.
CERC’s economic impact report for the library project is well written and informative, but the upshot is that there’s no way of knowing ahead of time how much library visits will increase (or decrease) after construction, we have no idea how much business the library draws to local businesses, and other underlying assumptions may or may not pan out. We just don’t know what the economic impact of the new library building will be.
Barbara B. Mason
I speak on behalf of more than 1,000 supporters of the new library and Library Green to express our disappointment at last night’s P&Z meeting. This was supposed to be the Library’s presentation of their plan and it got hijacked by Preservationist proponents with no opportunity for the proponents of the new Library to speak. On the other hand, even non-residents were given a voice at the Preservationist’s P&Z presentation on April 15th.
We feel extremely disenfranchised that our voice does not matter. Members of the Commission have described supporters of the 1913 library as a “groundswell of concerned citizens” and that it is the “will of the people” to maintain the 1913 Library. Well, the groundswell of citizens who have signed the Friends of the new New Canaan Library petition are evidence the 1913 group does not represent the will of the people. This group includes the New Canaan Chamber of Commerce and the New Canaan Board of Realtors. I urge the Commission to please refrain from describing the 1913 group as the “will of the people”.
The legal and financial analysis do not support putting the fate of the Library Green in the hands of a group of people who themselves acknowledge they have no plan to support the 1913 building as a self sustaining entity. It is true they have no agency, but it’s also true they have no agency because the building and property the 1913 building stands on does not belong to them. The Library cannot simply hand over the building to them and forever give up their responsibility to use that space for community purposes. Allowing the building to sit empty to placate a group of people, or worse, allowing a commercial tenant goes against everything the Library stands for.
Compromise is always good, but the Preservationists have indicated absolutely no willingness to compromise. They have refused to consider moving the 1913 building elsewhere by saying it has no value if it is moved. Does a building with serious structural issues have more value to the community than a Library green? Where is the compromise?
I am extremely concerned that hiring an outside consultant is going to kill or delay the entire project when time is of the essence to get the project started ASAP. With rising construction costs and now, possibly a discouraged and disenfranchised donor base, the whole project runs serious risk of completely falling apart. I do not agree the two sides can come together because one side is absolutely unbending in their demands. There will be no perfect solution. In searching for a perfect solution through more study and wasted time, there is a great deal to be lost, both by the Library and the citizens of New Canaan (both present and future).
Janet Leung Fonss
Guys, we’ve lost the plot.
Somehow, the New Canaan Library issue has been presented and accepted by our town’s government as two sides on equal footing, although it most certainly is not.
It’s one side with over a decade of research, study, and planning already accomplished, working with a world-class architecture firm and leading regional civic planners.
And it’s the other side with some people who like a building and hired a local landscape architect to try and save it. They’re not without their erudition, though. Some of them went to New Canaan High School in the 1970s.
It’s one side with $16.5MM raised and another that’s unwilling to share exactly how much money they have raised but have indicated that it hovers around $100,000.
That’s not equal footing. That’s a difference of 16,500%.
It’s one side with a petition backed by 1,100 vetted and verified people all saying one thing: we need to build the new Library and green, and while we’re sad to see any building torn down, the 1913 building doesn’t even remotely serve our town’s needs. Not financially, not culturally, not from the standpoint of accessibility, and not, to many of us, visually.
The other side has a petition they’re unwilling to vet or share, but with fewer than 900 overall signatures and many of their public supporters living out of state, the point is moot.
It’s one side with actual librarians, who have proven themselves adept in creating and programming the cultural institution that meets the needs of everyone in our community. Who currently helm an institution that’s been active for 144 years, investing millions of dollars in creating a more informed and connected New Canaan. And then, there’s another side: the kinds of people who have no problem publicly impugning the character of a librarian.
Most importantly, it’s one side that owns the property and the building itself and another that doesn’t.
You don’t need tertiary research to say to you that stalling the new New Canaan Library and green project is going to enrage a lot of citizens, donors, local businesses, friends, and people who actually live in New Canaan. It might even destroy the project altogether. And then, we’ll be at square one, with the exact facility we had in 1979.
By denying one side any acknowledgement of their supporters, of their trustworthiness, of the veracity of their research and the value of their contributions to New Canaan as a town, you are denying democracy itself, and putting New Canaan’s future on ice while you figure out what to do one very expensive mothball.
This isn’t two sides. It’s one side, and some disorganized braying from some very presumptuous individuals.
Please stop viewing this issue as though it’s anything more.
There has been much focus around sleep for teens and those benefits. It is very clear that this initiative is supported. All of the families that want sleep for the youngest learners will one day have teenagers as well. So, the goal should be enough sleep for all for a sound educational career at all ages! Hard stop.
Recently, I sent a FOIA letter in the hopes of discovering additional research the Administration reviewed and conducted in any way to balance the focus on both elementary students and teens. To my absolute disappointment, the answer I received was everything that was already listed on the BOE site. I point to the Administration as they solely took on the solution – no cross-collaborative group which means there has been a black box around the direction solving for this issue has taken. To date, there has been no research that the BOE has focused on or engaged in that involves early school start times for elementary aged students. The following is what was shared on the BOE site:
Under Articles and Research – 1 link (out of 23)
Start Times and Elementary Students – there are a couple of articles linked through and all cite there should be concern about too early and the effects of flipping start times.
Surely, we can agree that is nowhere near sufficient.
Fortunately, we are very lucky to have incredibly passionate parents in this town. Two have provided the following sets of research that should be highly considered before moving forward with the current scenario. Alongside what has been provided by James Yao and others (found on www.ncstarttimeequity.org) please find below published research that focusing on early school start times on elementary aged children. For the record, this information did not take much effort or time….
- Earlier school start times as a risk factor for poor school performance: An examination of public elementary schools in the commonwealth of Kentucky.
- Earlier school start times are associated with higher rates of behavioral problems in elementary schools
- Children’s Sleep Needs: Is There Sufficient Evidence to Recommend Optimal Sleep for Children?
Please note: on this link the study says that basically more research needs to be done but that children’s sleep is very variable and needs change from child to child. There are links on the side as well about the need for more empirical data and that the assumptions is that we all need more sleep and it is suffering due to the rigors of “modern life” as well as an article on the importance of family (which has been brought as an issue with our current scenario).
We concede that bus commutes are much longer in this school district, but the findings are very much relevant.
In addition, we were able to connect with Joseph A. Buckhalt, Ph.D., Wayne T. Smith Distinguished Professor Emeritus, Auburn University. Who has spent a good chunk of his career researching how early school start times effect elementary aged children. He shared the following communication, summary and links to more detailed research with us.
“I’m glad you contacted me. I am attaching a document that summarizes research related to elementary school students. While it has not been updated since November 2019, it includes discussion of numerous papers that support the argument that young children are not served well by having them start school very early in the day.
I am also copying this reply to Judson Everitt, a parent and scholar in this area who prepared the summary and has done a lot of work on this matter, including interacting directly with many parents and school administrators.
“As for my view on the proposed schedule you describe, I don’t think it is a good idea for the youngest children to start school earlier than 8:30 AM. Most children have lengthy bus rides so their school day actually has to begin much earlier to wake up, eat breakfast, get dressed and ready, get to the bus stop, wait for the bus, and ride the bus before arriving for a 7:40 AM start in your case. In winter many students with a start that early will have to wake long before dawn and go to bed very early to get the sleep they need.
“I wish you the best in working with school personnel to educate them about the complexities of making the kind of changes they are proposing. The well-funded lobbying groups are indeed very influential, and they are generally not interested in any research findings or anecdotal reports that run counter to their single-mined focus on later starts for teenagers.”
Mr. Judson Everitt who is mentioned above would be happy to conduct an education session for anyone interested. We are looking to set that up – hoping the administration and anyone else on the town boards would join.
Additional papers below (some lengthy) talk about the variability in sleep for children and the onset of changes in sleep based on age starts before puberty (3rd and 4th grades) showcasing the need for sleep even earlier.
Coming shortly as well from one of the parents mentioned above who happens to have a PhD in economics and policy is the effect on women and minorities, especially with COVID, that she sees in the particular impacts on the community and burden with this scenario. Our town dynamics have changed and with it too should be a watchful eye on how we progress in our policy.
With all this information now rounding out what has been published – we ask again – what is the cost for all students to be able to get the appropriate amount of sleep and balance the loads they have as well as those of the community? What are the specific logistics we need to solve for – and quickly let’s pull in the specific experts (civic engineers, NC police) to solve for them? Logistics we can solve for.
Enough! Please approve the new New Canaan Library as proposed by the Library. There already has been more than enough due-diligence…as well as satisfactory responses provided and action steps taken…to address the town’s questions and concerns. P&Z’s decision to now require a third party consultant to assess the design work for the entire project and fact check estimates for rebuilding the 1913 building is unnecessary and insulting…and will only serve to add more time and cost to the project.
The proposed New Canaan Library and its Campus represent the future of New Canaan.
We are writing to express our strong support for the NEW library as currently proposed.
How do we want to present our town to current residents, business owners, and future prospective home buyers?
Are we a town that has the courage to move forward with a landmark project that will truly put New Canaan on the map or must we cling to a past that will not add value to our town’s future economic development?
We need to move forward now with the plans to build a new library in the center of our town. The library and its board have worked tirelessly for years to design a building to better accommodate our community of lifelong learners and to raise money to design a campus for the 21st century. The new library is an environmentally friendly building. In our era of climate change we must take the future and its requirements into account.
It is understandable that many longtime residents of New Canaan have a sentimental attachment to what is called the 1913 building. To protect that entity they should raise funds and with the support of the town move and repurpose the structure to a town-owned property where it can continue to play a part in our town. This should not be the concern of the leadership New Canaan Library.
Please do not sabotage the plans for an exciting new library project that has been years in the making! Our town needs business and economic revitalization after the pandemic, and the proposed new library will lead the way in that effort.
Christina and Dick Fagerstal
I write to address actions that the Planning & Zoning Commission (“the P&Z”) propose taking with respect to the New Canaan Library’s applications before it. For the reasons set forth below, I believe these actions, while perhaps well intended, are misguided.
First, I want to thank the members of the P&Z for their service to the Town of New Canaan. The P&Z is undoubtedly the hardest working commission here, and the fact that its work is done on an entirely volunteer basis is remarkable and commendable. It is clear the members take their position seriously, and for that, I am grateful.
The mission of the P&Z is to review and decide applications that appear before it based on applicable zoning laws and regulations. The P&Z’s job, as I understand it, is not to weigh the relative feelings of the interested parties. In addition, it is beyond the purview of the P&Z to revise the plans set forth in the application it is asked to evaluate or to question the cost of the projects set forth in said plans. Accordingly, it came as quite a shock to me and others when, at the close of the P&Z meeting on Tuesday, April 27, 2021, it was proposed that the P&Z would engage the services of a consultant not only to evaluate the cost of renovating the 1913 Library building and 1936 addition (the “1913/1936 structure”), but also potentially to evaluate the total cost of the New Canaan Library’s proposed plan and to surmise as to the cost of a redesign incorporating the 1913/1936 structure into the Library’s proposed design – all on the Library’s dime.
This line of inquiry seems both untimely and improper, not to mention irrelevant. As an initial matter, such a wide-ranging inquiry will unduly delay this application. With the cost of raw and construction materials rising daily, such a delay is imprudent. Moreover, it seems wholly inappropriate for the P&Z to revise the Library’s application by seeking to evaluate an alternate design incorporating the 1913/1936 structure. It also appears irrelevant to the P&Z’s mission to review the total cost of the Library’s proposed plan, which is funded mostly by private donations. To the extent the P&Z believes the Town’s contribution should be reviewed in conjunction with the Library’s application, that is being vetted by the two appropriate Town bodies, namely the Board of Finance and the Town Council. It is unnecessary for the P&Z to weigh in there.
Finally, regarding the use of a consultant to evaluate the cost of renovating the 1913/1936 structure, it must be noted that the Library provided a third consultant evaluation at the P&Z meeting on Tuesday night. Lynn Temple of Turner Construction testified at length about his estimate and cost analysis for retaining the 1913/1936 structure, noting that “the struggle is putting new things into old buildings,” and, in particular, in making sure everything is up to code. His estimate ranged from $2.3-2.7 million, slightly less than the Library’s initial estimate of $3-$4 million but still significantly more than the $800,000 or so estimated from the Preservationists’ study. One has to ask what more useful information a fourth consult will provide.
But perhaps more importantly, as Commissioner John Kriz aptly pointed out, what difference will it make? Is there a cost-tipping point, or should there even be one that the P&Z should consider? The question before the P&Z, though it might seem emotionally fraught, is really a simple one – does the Library’s application and proposed plan comport with the applicable zoning laws and regulations, and in particular the Town’s Plan of Conservation and Development (“the PCOD”)?
I submit that it does. Indeed, all interested parties seem to favor the plans for the new library building. The sole point of contention is whether the P&Z has the authority to force the Library to retain the 1913/1936 structure in lieu of its proposed library green. Those in favor of retaining the 1913/1936 structure would have you believe that the PCOD requires the retention of that building; as you know, however, the PCOD imposes no such obligation. Moreover, as I read it, the PCOD is not necessarily plan specific; rather, it is a plan for the Town in its entirety. In other words, it does not require or even advise the retention of any and all historical elements that might be present in any one project. Rather, it is a vision statement for the Town as a whole, for the P&Z to consider as it examines all projects across its entire portfolio.
Having said that, the Library has taken great pains to meet the advisory pillars of the PCOD in its plans: to preserve and enhance community character, nurture downtown, enhance livability and achieve sustainability and resiliency. While all of the elements of the Library’s plans meet these goals, I can think of no other aspect that meets them more than the proposed library green. Its sustainable, native gardens will provide a gateway to downtown, with no building awkwardly bisecting it. It will provide a respite for shoppers and diners, an escape for at-home workers and students, and with stone elements from the 1913/1936 structure woven into the walls and other structures, it will itself preserve New Canaan’s history and character long into the future.
The P&Z should approve the New Canaan Library’s proposed applications without further delay.
As a resident of the amazing town of New Canaan for the last seven years, my family and I are very excited with the prospect of the new library and green. After having reviewed the plans and also reading further about the vision, it so clearly reflects who we are as a community and how we value the resources made available to our community and residents. I understand there is strong debate with regard to the existing library building versus the proposed new structure and this has resulted in delays and potential changes to what has been planned. My family and I would just like to strongly voice our support for moving forward with the new library and green as planned, versus throwing good money after bad by maintaining the existing building/structure which has naturally outlived it’s useful life. While historical buildings should at times be considered for long-term restoration and maintenance, the library in a town like ours should reflect and be anchored to the latest and quickly-evolving research and learning modalities and not historical charm. This project is not an option and must move forward.
Additionally, I do hope that the overwhelming support throughout the community for the new and much-needed library supersedes that of the political obstacles that are being raised and unnecessarily slowing this down.
Sean Jackson & Family
I am an 18-year resident of New Canaan and a trustee of the New Canaan Library. I attended the entire meeting of the P&Z on April 27th. I am writing to express my shock and dismay that at the conclusion of the meeting the Commission’s best idea was to retain a “consultant” to assess the merits of the Library design and the cost of retaining the 1913 building.
The whole premise of this idea is simply wrong. On the one hand you have an applicant asking for a decision on a plan to redevelop their private property with >$16 million of private donations to create a facility which will benefit all the residents of New Canaan. On the other you have a group of objectors who would like to appropriate private property for their own undetermined use. Asking a consultant to assess the two sides as having equal standing is absurd.
Prior to the pandemic one could not give away a home in New Canaan and the mill rate was on a long climb up as commissioner Basch has written about extensively. Today we are enjoying the fleeting glory of a post-covid bump in value. With remote work a fixture of the work environment, going forward our competition for residents and a vibrant downtown will be not only our neighboring towns and NYC but towns further east and north. Choosing to NOT invest in a once in a generation project will have the predictable consequence of putting us back on the pre-pandemic path of rising mill rates and a moribund downtown.
If you prefer the status quo vote for it and do so publicly. If you support the New New Canaan Library approve the plan. Don’t create a false narrative of a third choice by outsourcing your decision to a consultant.
My name is Sanny Warner and I live at 91 Four Winds Lane. I support the New New Canaan Library, as designed, for three reasons: time, progress and inclusivity.
On the subject of Time: I grew up in New Canaan and remember the Summer Reading Clubs that I participated in from a very young age. Reading my way through the list provided by the Library instilled in me a love of reading from the very beginning. In middle school, the highlight of my week was taking the school bus to town, getting lunch at the Deli Bake (now the Linen Shop) and then lugging my huge backpack to the Library to do my homework with friends. I researched term papers, checked out novels and socialized a ton at the Library.
I moved back to New Canaan with two young children in 2011. They, too, grew up taking the bus to town to meet tutors at the Library and do their homework. They, too, socialized and ate out – usually at Press Burger – in town with friends. The Library provided them with a wholesome, helpful and safe destination. And because it’s there for them, they can spend all afternoon in town, supporting the local businesses and then heading to the Library to do their work. But they’re living the exact same life that I lived 30 years ago in the exact same library.
My boys are grown up now and will both be away at school come September. It went very, very, fast. They represent one more generation growing up in the same library – in every way – that I grew up in. We can’t let any more time pass or another generation will not benefit from what could be with the new library. Our kids, along with the devoted, hard-working incredibly smart people who have worked on this project for the past 12 years, in a completely selfless effort to improve our town, should not have to wait any longer.
On Progress: I’ve always had pride in our town because of the rich architectural history. I grew up trying to sneak peaks of the Glass House over the high stone wall from the school bus. I minored in architectural history in college and wrote my term paper on the mid-century modern movement in New Canaan. I’m not an architect, but I work for an architect now, in an office right in the middle of downtown New Canaan, across from the Library. This town has inspired many areas of my life. I’ve always identified with this piece of New Canaan and I know other people do too. Modern architecture represents progress in its most functional, efficient and inclusive form. Libraries should, too.
On Inclusivity: The New New Canaan Library will evolve and expand to offer even more programs to even more people. A state of the art, purpose-built, flexible, sustainable library is what New Canaan needs now. The New Canaan Library is a valuable resource to our community, serving all New Canaan residents by providing a vast array of programming, classes and speakers for all interests and all ages. What other Town organization can say as much?
Not only does retaining the 1913 piece of the building impede progress, it’s a plan fraught with unresolved issues. Let’s not spend more resources (either public or private) to save the existing library structure for the benefit of only a few. Instead, let’s make room for a Library green that can be used by everyone. Let’s create a place that everybody feels they own and can go to and that won’t come and go with the ups and downs of the economy. Let’s draw people to our downtown and show them what we’ve got to share with them.
The New Canaan Preservation Alliance has a honorable mission to save important pieces of our Town’s history. But this just doesn’t seem like the right project for them. They haven’t convinced me that the 1913 building is historic and they certainly haven’t come up with a way to pay for saving it. To me, that piece of the Library lost its significance in 1936 and in the 70s when the renovations to the Library were done in an historically insensitive way. Where was the NCPA then? There are plenty of New Canaan homes and landmarks that need saving. I wish they’d focus on those instead of our Library.
By building the New New Canaan Library, as designed, we will continue to be that town that has always attracted innovation and progress. We will show our support for those New Canaanites who have committed their personal time and resources to help make it a better place. And we will have a more complete downtown for everyone to enjoy.
Dear New Canaanite,
41.145757. And -73.492140.
Two peculiar numbers that don’t seem to come up in conversation much.
And why should they? They aren’t particularly charming numbers. Nor bring to mind much of anything, let alone emotional nostalgic memories of days past. They definitely aren’t the first two things you tell a friend visiting New Canaan upon picking them up at the train station. And if someone asked you to make a list of all the historically significant reasons to love our town, and the 1913 library, they probably wouldn’t even rank last.
Because the latitude and longitude coordinates of the 1913 building aren’t what make it, or the town, special.
That’s not where the charm lies. The memories of reading books in high school in the 1960s. The connection to residents 107 years ago. The imagined future uses it can have for the next thousand years.
It’s the building itself. It’s the stones. It’s the architecture. It’s the physical, actual thing one can touch with their hand and feel years of history soaked deeply into it.
So why is nobody talking about moving it?
The library has offered it up for free to anyone willing to give it a new, happier home.
Maybe to 41.123269,-73.489086 (Waveny)? Maybe to 41.135645,-73.475485 (Kiwanis)? Maybe to 41.139672,-73.496290 (Mead)? Or 41.148553,-73.508083 (Irwin)? Just like it’s current location, the important thing should be that the building stands – not where.
Yes, it’ll cost money. Yes, it’ll be a lot of work. But those are surmountable challenges that the entire town will certainly rally around. Minneapolis did it for the Shubert Theater. New York City did it for Alexander Hamilton’s home. Stamford did it for the Hoyt-Burnam home. And New Canaan even did it years ago for the Rock School.
But refusing to compromise, refusing to have a plan B, refusing to entertain the notion that the next two years could be put to great use planning, fundraising and figuring out a new physical address for the 1913 building – those are challenges no one can overcome.
And will leave the 1913 building most likely at 41.140316,-73.478280 (Transfer Station).
Let’s work to move the 1913 building and not just save it, but the whole town.
Keith Simpson has designed a wonderful plan to preserve the original Library building as a useful building for various activities while not infringing at all on the new library plans. Instead of an extra piece of grass lawn, we can preserve the wonderful landmark building and have a wonderful new library, too!
My history with the New Canaan Library goes back over fifty years when I first took my Center School classes to the children’s room of the 1970’s which is now the gallery. It was filled with adult sized oak tables and chairs and resembled nothing of the children’s rooms we have all come to love. My students had to sit still on those large hard seats to listen to the story– no carpets or cozy little chairs. But Page Rowe the librarian loved children and always read a great story. In good weather I would take my class across Maple Street to sit under the beautiful trees and read them stories. Those trees were removed to make way for the new library.
During the 1970’s the “new” library was designed and funds were raised. I would take groups of my first graders five at a time (during lunch hour) to the library to request their own library cards– a very exciting coming of age moment for them!! While there, I would take them upstairs to the office of Peg Kately to show them the architectural model of the new addition! I would tell them all to go home and ask their parents if they would consider donating to help build this wonderful new structure that would include a fabulous new children’s room. As you can see, I am a supporter of libraries and new expanded buildings!
While the original 1913 building as well as the 1936 children’s room addition and small 1952 Cherry Street addition are still in excellent condition and used daily, the “new” addition to the building is in disrepair and out of date. The fact that the main structure which is over a hundred years old and the newer additions that are over sixty-five years old are still in excellent condition and still being happily used tells me that preservation of this structure is imperative from an historic and usefulness perspective.
When the “new” library was built, the 1979 Children’s wing was a very special part. I retired from teaching at Center School in 1979, had my first child Susie and proposed to Page Rowe and Mary Johnson, the children’s librarians, that I develop a “Mom and Tot” program for the 0-5 age crowd. This was all a very new idea at the time. There were some toddler story hours, but nothing to really engage mothers and their children from infancy to kindergarten to use and enjoy the library. Thankfully, those wonderful women were forward thinking and knew of my work for ten years with young children and book associated activities and they helped me convince The Friends of the Library Board, of which I became a member, to allow me to pilot the program. For eight years, until my children were older, I organized and led Mom and Tot Sing-a-Longs, story craft sessions and bedtime story hours, (with the children in their pajamas!) puppet shows, The Royal Ballet’s movie production of Peter Rabbit and an origami master were all featured events. I also provided speakers such as pediatricians and speech pathologists to discuss topics of interest to young parents.
I relate this history of my experience with the New Canaan Library to demonstrate the wonderful opportunities that have been given the children of New Canaan in the historic older sections of the building where many of the above mentioned activities took place. For over one hundred years that building provided fabulous opportunities for the children and adults of New Canaan. The new building will continue that tradition, developing new state of the art activities for children and adults; but, they do not have to be mutually exclusive. The old and the new can live in harmony with one another as was demonstrated by the new Town Hall addition attached to the historic edifice. The old and the new must live in harmony if we are to maintain the heritage of our historic town as we move into the future!
I do hope that you will consider signing the petition below to add your name to those of us who believe that the original 1913 Library is worth preserving as much as the new library is worth building!
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