The $36 million rebuilding of New Canaan Library will commence next spring and construction will continue for about two years, according to plans shared Tuesday with town officials.
Under a Memorandum of Understanding or ‘MOU’ with the town that’s been under negotiation for months, the town will 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, the documents show.
A traffic engineer hired by the library has found that an original proposal to create covered parking is problematic, according to a letter from the library’s executive director, Lisa Oldham, and its Board of Trustees.
Addressing questions that had been raised by the Board of Finance, it’s one of several documents sent to members of the Boards of Selectmen and Finance as well as the Town Council.
“The library is committed to the incorporation of a Library Green which is an integral and important part of the overall project,” the letter said. “Therefore, in discussion with several officials at [the town of New Canaan], the Library has commissioned further studies from its engineers and are in full agreement with a plan to accelerate and resolve a plan for parking.”
Taken together, the documents—they include five-year operations budget projections, project schedule and a narrative reviewing new revenues and costs that will come with the rebuilt facility—present a new layer of detail on the widely anticipated project. The town’s funding bodies in preparing to vote on a bond resolution have called in recent meetings for additional information from the library, and the documents address their questions.
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” at the corner of Main and Cherry Streets.
The green itself will sit, in part, where the original 1913 library structure stands. 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 address the question of the original building in their letter, 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.”
In addition to approval from the town funding bodies, the library must go before the Planning & Zoning Commission with its site plan and likely obtain a special permit. Library officials said in their letter that they intend to submit applications to P&Z early autumn with an eye on obtaining approvals early next year or earlier.
“It is likely that the creation of a Library Zone would be part of this process as is typical for similar projects and this will be done concurrent with the P&Z application,” the letter said.
Other new information contained in the documents includes reference to the MOU that’s been under negotiation for months though its contents have been withheld from the public. (The town denied NewCanaanite.com‘s public records request to view the draft document, prompting a complaint to the state Freedom of Information Commission that has yet to be adjudicated.)
The MOU calls for two members of town bodies to join the library’s building committee, and two members of the Town Council to join its Board of Trustees ex-officio.
“The Library agrees with this provision and welcomes one person from each [Board of Finance] and [Town Council], appointed by the head of that body and approved by the NCL Board of Trustees, to join the building committee in good faith, even prior to the resolution of the MOU and subsequent appropriation of $10MM,” the letter said.
In a narrative accompanying the five-year projections, library officials say the new building will bring a total of about $30,000 in additional annual cost for landscaping and cleaning (due in part to increased use). It also will bring in about $45,000 of new revenue between leasing space for a café and room rentals, the narrative said.
No additional full-time staff will be required to operate the new building, and the library is seeking to maintain its annual 2.5% increase from the town through the regular budget process, it said.
“Currently we have an old and inefficient building,” the narrative said. “Regular repairs and maintenance costs are high and paid from our capital fund (source: philanthropy). In a new building, we will have an asset management plan supported by a separate capital budget to ensure we are maintaining the new asset to a high level, and we will not have the drag of our current resource hungry structure. It is also important to note that to date, all the costs of capital repairs and replacement have been borne by the library exclusively from fundraising and are not shown in our operating budgets. Given the increasing maintenance and repair demands of our declining building, we will not be able to absorb these costs much longer.”
Library officials say they’re looking to increase the organization’s endowment (currently $1.4 million) over the next five to 10 years.
“For all other budget lines, we have used our strategic priorities and the past several years as a guide to projecting their level of expected increase/decrease for the next five years,” the narrative said. “Based on our current Strategic Plan and community expectations, we continue to focus on growing our programs, ensuring we can attract and retain excellent staff and maintaining the quality of our excellent collections.”