Library Timeline Calls for P&Z Approvals Early 2021, Late-Spring Start of Construction 

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

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.”

13 thoughts on “Library Timeline Calls for P&Z Approvals Early 2021, Late-Spring Start of Construction 

  1. In late January 2020 the new New Canaan Library was presented, via an animated video, to the Town Council and with a price tag of $30 million.
    Fast forward to the end of July 2020, and the new New Canaan library is being presented with a price tag of $36 million and we are still watching the same video. What has happened in the last 6 months to increase the cost of the new New Canaan library by %20?
    The Library Board was “negotiating” with the Town of New Canaan to become a stronger partner by requesting $10 million of the original $30 million budget, rather than the previously “agreed upon” $5 million.
    Will there be a new “negotiation” (since there still hasn’t been an actual ask) for the New Canaan taxpayers to step-up with $12 million towards this new $36 million budget?
    Without pricing drawings at the least, the Library Board’s budget will continue to be in flux. Can’t the Library Board make it clear to their architects that their is a budget? Or, is it that there is no limit to what the Library Board expects the New Canaan taxpayers to foot the bill for, both in individual donations and taxpayer dollars?

  2. How about leasing the ‘old’ library building for a cafe, extra rooms or a museum to support maintenance costs and save $45,000 annually? The new studies done by Save The 1913 Library show good shape and future use of this building is practical… Also would provide additional savings as ‘green’ would not need to be constructed and supervised …..it is already there!

  3. Looks wonderful but where’s the parking? Unless parking can be figured out it seems like project the is a non – starter. As everyone knows downtown parking is already an issue. You can’t compound the problem by not providing enough spaces to support larger library.

  4. It’s important to be clear that the 1913 Library and subsequent additions done in the 1950’s and 1970’s are in differing conditions. If the 1913 building was built today construction experts say it would cost 10-15 million based on the materials used and the craftsmanship. Please see the 1913 building conditions report that shows the excellent condition the building is in after 100 plus years: https://newcanaanpreservationalliance.org/original-1913-library-conditions-report/. As said yesterday by Mr. Ted Grabarz, AIA, ASLA, “The 1913 Library is our town green” and there is no need to destroy this building. As for the Town Council vote not to delay the library construction so “the preservationists” can find a new use for the building and fund raise, this is old news and has no impact on the future of 1913. Let’s please not profile our residents and brand them with the term “preservationists” as it not an accurate representation of the wide swath New Canaan residents who oppose the destruction of 1913. Our town leaders can make provisions to retain 1913 before granting 10 million dollars for a proposed library. In addition, preliminary feasibility reports by Kirk and Co and pro-forma real estate financial analysis show that 1913 can be an income producing building earning far more than expected. Let’s reflect the current state of residents opposing the 1913 library destruction: a growing group of Moms, Dad and grandparents all who live in New Canaan who are rolling up their sleeves to stop this building from destruction. It is in the best interests of our town to find a way to keep it in the place where it currently stands.

  5. We do appear to have a not-unexpected case of budget-creep.

    Having lived in Darien in the 1960’s, I still have friends there and I am hearing that their library’s final cost was $50 million.
    Also, I do know that the late Anne and Harold McGraw (think McGraw-Hill Publishing) had an”open pocketbook”

  6. Newcanaanite.com has filed a formal Freedom of Information request to see what’s in the so-called Memorandum of Understanding (“MOU”). Why the great secrecy? Who is negotiating this? What are the issues? Are there any quid pro quos? MOU”S are generally non-binding, not legally enforceable so how do taxpayer’s know what they may be getting for their dollars, both in the short run and if, God forbid, anything goes wrong later? It was noted in the story that the Town would get two ex officio seats on the board of the library. I do not see that as any big victory. The first selectman is already ex officio. There are fifteen full board members as it is. Would these new ex officio members vote and would they have any real powers? Given the many millions of dollars the Town gives the library each year in operating expenses, plus the large grant it is being expected to give now, it should have more say in how the library is governed.
    This is a pivotal moment for New Canaan. The library is just one of many very critical issues. Let’s get it right. Let’s build a better library, honor the past and do all this in the full light of disclosure so that the citizen’s of New Canaan understand what has been committed on their behalf and in their unity.

  7. A very informative article and a great project. Kudos to all that are trying to bring such a wonderful community resource to our town, despite the noisy and negative rhetoric from a small group. This will be the best thing to happen in New Canaan in many years and the green is a big win for patrons and downtown.

    • Please don’t be so dismissive of the MANY New Canaanites who, while welcoming a new library, are against demolishing the iconic 1913 Library. Not a small group, not noisy, and — in seeking to preserve one of our town’s highest profile landmarks — definitely not negative.

  8. Michael Dinan/NewCanaanite Board Of Directors/NewCanaanite Board Of Advisors/NewCanaanite Shareholders, Stakeholders & Readers:

    I have recently developed an understanding of the stated/ unstated/implied/ & demonstrated bias of Michael Dinan/NewCanaanite Board Of Directors/NewCanaanite Board Of Advisors/NewCanaanite Shareholders (collectively, the “NewCanaanite”) in favor of the New Canaan Library, Inc.’s initiatives and communications. The recent absence of any alternative opinions published in the NewCanaanite is supportive of my understanding.

    Notwithstanding my recognition of this bias, I ask all of you, NewCanaanite, regardless of the degree of your bias, to address the following:

    To all that may be or become interested in full disclosure, I respectfully request that the NewCanaanite, New Canaan Library, Inc. and all of its directors, officers, employees, donors, architects, engineers, consultants, owner’s representatives, Town Of New Canaan Officials, TEDAC, New Canaan Board Of Realtors, New Canaan Chamber Of Commerce, ALL of you, please provide ALL of the documents, plans, renderings, communications, letters, memoranda, e-mail messages, collectively, and without limitation, ALL communications and documents in all forms of media (defined and construed in the most inclusive and expansive extent, “Information”, that the New Canaan Library, Inc. and all of its directors, officers, employees, donors, architects, engineers, consultants, owner’s representatives, New Canaanite, Town Of New Canaan Officials, TEDAC, New Canaan Board Of Realtors, New Canaan Chamber Of Commerce have received, produced, commented on or opened/read regarding the new New Canaan Library, Inc. (“NCLI”) existing and proposed library buildings and ALL Information directly or indirectly addressing, referencing or alluding to the existing NCLI lands and improvements at 151 Main Street, New Canaan, CT 06840.

    That more than one Freedom Of Information Act (FOIA) actions (including one or more brought by the NewCanaanite!) are now in process against the NCLI, addressing, directly or indirectly, one or more of the above information requests, is informative, pathetic and cautionary, at the least. That NCLI has been evasive and essentially non-responsive, is unacceptable, shocking and a “hard stop” for we, New Canaan’s now alerted and focused taxpayers.

    Alerted and focused, we New Canaan taxpayers must now more precisely and forcefully seek truthful, first source information from NCLI, from New Canaan town officials and from the NewCanaanite (notwithstanding its demonstrated biases) with which to form our opinions and specify the direction of our precious tax payments to and through our Town Of New Canaan and its officials and Town boards and bodies.

    Fellow New Canaan taxpayers: please don’t be paralyzed or fatigued by “these Covid times”, the “Dog Days of Summer”, NCLI’s obfuscations or NewCanaanite’s biases.

    New Canaan taxpayers: please insist on reviewing and analyzing original source information; all of us must scrupulously evaluate one of New Canaan’s largest capital cost AND continuing operating cost contribution commitments that our Town and NCLI have heretofore sought to keep cloaked, while rushing both through an approval process that is yet not understood by all Town officials.

    Sincerely,

    Charles L. Robinson

  9. Would the Historical Society like the 1913 library on their property? Of course, that would mean fund-raising to move it and to fund an endowment for them to maintain it. And the Historical Society is trying to build an endowment for their regular operations.

    • Barbara:

      Barbara:

      Thank you for your “spot on” question.

      My understanding is that the New Canaan Historical Society is:

      (i) very, very financially challenged, and quite in pursuit of new purposes that may generate revenue and large donations to continue to exist; and

      (ii) politically “warned off” of, among other things, any public or other means of support for the preservation of the New Canaan Historical Society’s first, and longest standing home: the 1913 New Canaan Library Building.

      What a pathetic shame.

      Please know that I have properly and directly called out the New Canaan Historical Society’s Board Of Directors, questioning them as to their conspicuously “ostrich-like” position regarding preservation and adaptive re-purposing of the Historical Society’s first and longest standing home, but have received no response whatsoever. At the same time, I have asked this Board to state, just what its stands for.

      Again, thank you for your keen and proper question.

      Charles L. Robinson

  10. There is already too much aggressive new construction happening especially in downtown New Canaan; especially higher rises. I don’t see a similar picture in surrounding towns. I just hope that builders are not using the covid crisis to push problem construction through P & Z, which was already overwhelmed with pressures. The $50 million dollar Darien facility gets plenty of use but has an institutional feeling to it.

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