There are many ongoing conversations about the proposal to build a new New Canaan Library, which I strongly support. A key element in these discussions is what to do with the antique portion of the current library building.
I am recommending that the Town Council should act soon to ensure ample time to create a plan of preservation that would address the design, funding and future use of a “Landmark Library” as a separate, free-standing building.
There wouldn’t be sufficient time to create such a plan before the town approves a capital contribution for the new library, which may happen in the next few months. To buy time, I’m proposing that the library grant to the town a 12-month option to acquire the Landmark Library and some of the land surrounding it.
If within that 12-month period a compelling preservation plan is presented, the town would exercise the option, acquire the property for $1, restore the Landmark Library, and put it to a beneficial use.
If a compelling preservation plan is not presented, the town wouldn’t exercise the option, and the library could implement its proposed plan without change. Either way, the disposition of the Landmark Library would be clarified within a year.
I’m not wedded to specifics, just to the concept: the town should have a say in how our capital contribution is spent and should have a reasonable time to decide on the best solution. The proposal doesn’t ask much of the library leadership team, because the issue would be resolved at least a year before demolition of the Landmark Library would be scheduled to occur. The proposal would not impede construction of the new library.
The choice should not be between “old” and “new.” We can and should choose both. We should embrace a future in which old and new co-exist—a future in which we balance progress and preservation. The only question is whether the new library will feature a large green space or a smaller (but ample) green space adjacent to a landmark building that many of us love.
The Town Council invites input on issues regarding the library at a public hearing on Feb. 26.
Tom Butterworth is a member of—but does not speak on behalf of—the New Canaan Town Council.