Library: Rebuilding Project on Track for Spring As Parking Plan, Schematic Design Get Finalized 


Proposed rebuilt New Canaan Library. Rendering courtesy of New Canaan Library

The timetable for municipal approvals of the widely anticipated New Canaan Library rebuilding project has been pushed back a bit pending details around parking and specifics of financials, the town’s highest elected official said this week.

First Selectman Kevin Moynihan said Tuesday that he had anticipated the library coming to the Board of Finance this week “with further financial information, but they are waiting for pricing estimates on their project.”

“The Board of Finance has made clear that they want much more specific numbers before they can move forward,” Moynihan said during a regular meeting of the Selectmen’s Advisory Committee on Buildings and Infrastructure, held via videoconference. “The Town Council has made clear that they want to see what is going to Planning & Zoning, which now has slipped a bit to the end of November, apparently.”

The multifamily dwelling at 48 South Ave. has been demolished as part of New Canaan Library’s rebuilding plan.

The $36 million rebuilding of New Canaan Library is still expected to commence next spring and construction will continue for about two years, the library’s executive director, Lisa Oldham, confirmed when asked about the project. Under a draft Memorandum of Understanding or ‘MOU’ with the town that’s been under negotiation since early this year, the town is to contribute $10 million toward the project while the library bears the balance of the cost through its own fundraising and a $15 million commercial construction loan from Bankwell, documents show.

Moynihan said that parking is among the key pieces of the MOU.

“P&Z will define what their parking requirement is,” he said. “They have not done that yet, and the fact that there is an adjacent, inefficient Center School parking lot is the subject of discussion right now and also the I don’t now how the 1913 building is going to get resolved but it must get resolved by the time the Town Council finally votes in probably December or January, February.”

The comments came in response to a question from Kimberly Norton, a guest at the meeting and member of a preservation group opposed to the library’s plan, which calls for a town green overlooking the corner of Cherry and Main Streets, including where the original 1913 library building stands.

Asked about the parking plan for the new library, Oldham said a traffic engineer hired by the library found that the original idea of creating underground parking was judged to be a poor option because it would create traffic problems. As a result, she said, the library commissioned further study and has been presented with eight options for parking. The library’s review of those options, with P&Z, is still underway, she said.

Regarding the more specific information requested of the library, Oldham said the transition from schematic design to design development has “just taken longer because there was a lot of work to do at the end of the schematic design.”

“Better to get it right than to do it fast,” she said.

Unveiled in January, plans for a rebuilt facility call for dramatically different use of the organization’s gateway block to the downtown and feature a glass-and-stone exterior, 300-seat auditorium, rooftop terrace, café, public concourse, fireplace, two large conference rooms and “town green.”

Though Moynihan said the question of the 1913 library building still must be resolved, that matter has been addressed before both town funding bodies by the library.

In February, the Town Council by a 10-2 vote rejected a motion that would have effectively halted the library’s project for one year so that preservationists could figure out a use for the original building and fundraise for its restoration and maintenance. 

Library officials addressed the question of the original building in a letter from this summer that addressed questions raised by the Board of Finance, saying, “The original structure of the current library has not been included in the design for the future as through the many iterations of the project, the design that fulfilled the majority of the project goals could not also retain the original structure.”

Oldham said that library officials met last week with Norton and that, during the meeting, the president of the library’s Board of Trustees, Bob Butman, reiterated that the 1913 building is not part of the rebuilding plans and that if any person or entity wants to work with the library to move the structure to a new location, the organization will work with that person or group.

In addition to gaining approval from the town funding bodies, the library must go before the P&Z with its site plan and likely obtain a special permit.

New Canaan Library from Centerbrook Architects on Vimeo.

4 thoughts on “Library: Rebuilding Project on Track for Spring As Parking Plan, Schematic Design Get Finalized 

  1. Difference between want and need: kids in Bridgeport need devices for distance learning that many don’t have; a $20-$25 million library would be just fine to meet our “needs.” Yes, they are two separate issues, donors should be able to do what they want with their money, schools should not be regionalized, and New Canaanites should not be taxed more — we already send $200 million to Hartford per year which has generally been spent poorly versus getting around $1 million back from Hartford for town needs — but something feels “off” to me when we plan on building an enormous library with a 300 seat auditorium (how is that going to utilized consistently?) when there are so many obvious real needs a short distance away, along with other alternatives to spending taxpayer money that should be considered more at home…or a novel concept, spending less taxpayer money!

    An alternative: pursue a $20-$25 million library, with a $5-$7 million contribution from the town. Some of the “saved” money — the difference between the planned $10 million contribution (could wind up being higher with project cost overruns and doesn’t include interest expense on the town loan or monies already used toward the library project like the purchase of ~$500,000 of land) minus the $5-$7 million — can renovate the 1913 library (a classic building that should be preserved, imo), some can be kept with taxpayers, and some can be spent on alternative investments, if deemed reasonable, like affordable day care or senior housing in a location receptive to almost all residents (good luck with that!). The pushback will be donors only want a world class $35 million+ library, not a very nice $20 million library (the original cost discussed in the press was $20-$25 million). Some donors will understandably balk at the lower pricer tag and less world-beater of a library, but we don’t know how much a public campaign including all residents would raise, or if new large donors would arise. A larger library will lead to higher ongoing maintenance costs and realistic estimates on how much higher this will be are not readily available to the public that contributes around 70% of the library’s funding per year.

  2. Great looking building concept. But, with everyone using the internet for research of any kind, I’d like to see usage analysis of the current library over the last few years. The internet will become more and more useful in future years. At $10 million, will the town – and its residents – really get its money’s worth? It’s easy math to calculate the “cost” per resident.

  3. Wow!

    Messrs. Basch, McLane and Klenk, thank you all for discerning and highlighting the fact that the increasingly more expensive proposed new New Canaan Library project ignores all of its own, neighboring cohort towns’ and Connecticut’s library visitation data in its hubris, narcissism and insensitivity to the Town Of New Canaan, its taxpayers and the New Canaan Library’s very own genesis.

    It is worthwhile to recall that the New Canaan Library’s own executive director (additionally, newest CEO, upon Robert Butman’s recent unannounced resignation) informed Town Council Chairman, John Engel early in the first quarter 2020 that the majority of the additional $5 million that NCL surprisingly requested from New Canaan taxpayers was to afford the lawn area that it insists certain of its patrician pledgors require.


    The second greatest portion of NCL’s surprise $5 million incremental ask was to afford parking spaces; and the balance of the $5 million incremental ask owed to the New Canaan Library, Inc. Board Of Directors “requirement” that the Town Of New Canaan must have “more skin in the game; more hands on the oar”. (Confident fundraising presentations I have experienced. Sputtering bulldozer “asks”: not until this.)

    Mr. Engel confirmed the foregoing to me twice–REALLY.

    That Messrs. Basch, McLane and Klenk suggest the revolutionary notion that NewCanaanites re-think overreaching grandiosity and expense, consider preservation and re-purposing of our Town’s longest-standing, and most recognized landmark (thank you Darien and Ridgefield for your excellent examples) AND, OF ALL THINGS, saving New Canaan taxpayers considerable moneys! should be what all of us, led by all of our Town officials, should insist on and strive for.

    Let’s wake up, as Messrs. Basch, McLane and Klenk suggest, and value engineer a sensibe future for our Town library’s.


    Charles L. Robinson

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