To the editor:
These are exciting times for the New Canaan Library as we embark on a project to build a new library and center for lifelong learning that will serve the town for generations to come.
We truly appreciate the incredible amount of support and interest that we have received from the community, town government and our very generous donors. Over $15 million in private capital has been raised to date indicating strong support for our existing plans for an iconic mid-century glass and stone building combined with the Town Green.
Further, a recently completed economic impact study indicates that New Canaan could benefit with up to an additional $6 million of economic activity as a result of this project. We expect to break ground in early 2021 and have the new building up and running by late 2022.
To achieve all this, it is critically important that we continue to move forward now with our current plans. Over the past 15 years, successive Boards of Trustees of the New Canaan Library have worked to advance a plan for a new library in downtown New Canaan. This process included convening focus groups to determine the needs and desires of residents and a careful examination of the requirements for the next generation of modern libraries. During this period, two of the country’s most renowned architectural firms, Robert A.M. Stern Architects and Centerbrook Architects, were hired by successive boards to evaluate options to design a new Library including whether we could retain the 1913 structure.
Given the fondness for the 1913 Main Street building, serious consideration was given to the possibility of renovating the existing library and/or integrating the original structure into new plans. In both instances, it was determined that this was not a viable approach given both the high costs and the severe restrictions it would place on design and functionality of the new library. In the end, after exhaustive consideration, it became clear that there is no financial nor functional rationale for keeping the structure.
Furthermore, our successful land acquisitions enabled us to envision the creation of Town Green that will enhance community life and library offerings. Leaving the 1913 structure in place ruins the Town Green, seriously compromises the visual integrity of the new Library and negates and the opportunity for community life that the Green will provide.
We understand the nostalgia for the original structure and we look forward to working with the community to preserve its memory. To be clear: to preserve the original structure is to rebuild it. The estimated cost is well in excess of $2 million. Once the rest of the existing library is removed, all that would remain are 2.5 external walls, a partial rubble foundation and a roof of indeterminate useful life. There is no HVAC or plumbing. It will also need a new foundation and the remaining external walls. The building would also need to be brought up to current building code as well as ADA compliance—most likely necessitating a long ramp up from Main Street. Furthermore, there are serious impacts on site drainage. In the end, what would be left is a costly, out-of-place structure situated on a large mound in the middle of the proposed town green that will serve no functional purpose for the library.
Clearly, this is not what the current Board of Trustees, library donors and community at large want. We also believe it is not in the best interest of taxpayers to keep this building. The proposal from Mr. Butterworth would see the town required to own and maintain yet another building at a time where the stated objective is to reduce this burden.
As an alternative the library would be willing to work with any serious group who wish to raise the funds to move the existing 1913 structure to another location. However, we will not permit the forward momentum of this project to be hijacked by those whose narrow objectives fail to address the needs of the wider community and do not recognize the substantial support already pledged for the new library plan as evidenced by our tremendous fundraising success to date. Any effort to change or delay the project, no matter how well intentioned, could have a serious impact on our fundraising and the eventual timing and delivery of the new library.
We believe this would be a mistake and only serve to delay the inevitable.
New Canaan sorely needs a new library. It is long overdue and well deserved.
Robert E. Butman
President, Board of Trustees, New Canaan Library
Chair, Building Committee, New Canaan Library