In the 15 years that successive New Canaan Library boards have studied the prospect of a rebuilt facility, conducting focus groups and hiring architects to come up with designs, it’s become clear that the best plan for the community requires demolition of what remains of the original structure there, officials said Tuesday.
Though they carefully considered a renovation or incorporation of the 1913 building into a future library, “each board came to the same conclusion,” Alicia Wyckoff, a former president of the organization, told members of the Board of Finance during a budget hearing at Town Hall.
“In order to get the types of spaces and functions of a modern, 21st Century library that our community is requesting—more programming spaces, meeting and study rooms, more places for the teaching and learning that is so important to our community today—we need to build a new library on a new footprint,” Wyckoff said, speaking on behalf of the library, its board and supporters. “These considerations led to the Midcentury Modern design that pays homage to an historically important architectural movement and one for which New Canaan is well known.”
She added, “Furthermore, as these plans came into focus, it became abundantly clear that it was not viable to retain the 1913 building for a multitude of reasons. First, it is not financially feasible for us. To preserve the original structure would require rebuilding it at a cost of well over $2 million. It would need a new foundation, walls, plumbing, mechanical, electrical, and would need to be brought up to current Building Code and ADA compliance. Second, keeping the structure in situ would severely compromise the design of the new library and town green, which is completely supported by our donors and is the basis of the $16 million that we have already raised. It also violates the entire intention of the integrated landscaping and town green. What we’ll be left with is an out-of-place structure in the middle of this beautiful open space that has been designated for future concerts, Shakespeare in the Park, other programming and simply a beautiful, centrally located community space for our citizens. Finally, keeping the 1913 building serves no purpose for our library: We can’t use it and most certainly we can’t afford to maintain it.”
The comments come as the finance board considers a Five-Year Capital Plan with four $2.5 million payments that would be made to New Canaan Library over the next four fiscal years as a $10 million total town contribution to its widely discussed rebuilding project.
Board of Finance Chair Todd Lavieri said at the meeting that “there is a new proposal on the table” for how the town could pay out the $10 million.
“So we may pull the whole thing out as a separate item,” Lavieri said.
Specifically, according to and Board of Finance member Kevin Moynihan, New Canaan’s first selectman, the town could authorize funding through a special appropriation this summer. The finance board is scheduled to vote on the fiscal year 2021 budget Thursday, passing it along to the Town Council, and to recommend a Five-Year Capital Plan. Items within the Capital Plan still require further public hearings and votes on bond issuances.
The library’s plan calls for a new 48,000-square-foot building with a 300-seat auditorium, rooftop terrace, café, public concourse, fireplace, two large conference rooms and a “town green” at the corner of Main and Cherry Streets. The library has committed to raising $20 million of the overall estimated $30 million project, and has received 55-plus gifts of $100,000 or more from private donors. Library officials are asking the town for a $10 million contribution.
The original library building is not included in the plans. Local preservationists are urging the library and town to keep it as a standalone facility for some future community use.
One advocate for its preservation, Charles Robinson, asked Board members to secure financial information from New Canaan Library, including forward budgets “and what could be expected from a new building.”