Op-Ed: Saving the ‘Landmark Library’

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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. 

9 thoughts on “Op-Ed: Saving the ‘Landmark Library’

  1. I last lived in New Canaan over 55 years ago. But I have sharp and fond memories of going to the library most days after school at Saxe Junior High let out. We didn’t always behave ourselves, but the library staff was pretty tolerant of our 7th and 8th grade antics. Mr Butterworth’s idea has merit.

  2. Having grown up in a house directly across from the New Canaan Library where the bank now stands, and having inhabited the halls of the library throughout my school years in New Canaan, I support Mr. Butterworths stand. The original library was an institution in so many lives for so long, I hope it will be treated with respect.

  3. This is a very thoughtful and appropriate suggestion, and it deserves endorsement. I also fully support the new library building, but, images of the entire new library property, with its complete demolition of the old, have only just recently come into public view. Given the enormity of the public funding being sought for this project, such an option would give some time for drawings to be studied and costs to be evaluated. As to the future of the current library building, if its problematic modern additions were removed, the high, dry, well-built, oldest sections of it would be more than 80 feet away from the nearest point of the new library. Therefore, with careful study, these two buildings could well coexist very comfortably, without either crowding the other. The town’s Plan of Conservation and Development prominently features the old part of the library as one of the best images that celebrates life in New Canaan. Why can we not show respect for the landmark portion of this valuable and dignified part of our town’s history, and downtown landscape, by re-purposing it, instead of demolishing it, and dispatching it in dumpsters?

  4. I am a former resident of New Canaan who has lived in VT since the 70s. I visit New Canaan whenever possible and my family lived in town for many decades. My grandfather who ran his business on Burtis Avenue for 50 years made many contributions to the town. In 1957 he built the steeple that still sits atop the Methodist church. When I was a young boy I remember my first visits to the library, it was a fastening place for me up through my school years. New Canaan has always felt like home to me even after all these years. Whenever I visit it’s always comforting to see some of the old homes and town buildings that still exist. It is however so sad to see so many places gone in the name of progress. Things often do need to change, however sometimes there can be solutions for keeping something old and beautiful while developing something new. There are solutions to be able to keep that beautiful, solid crafted old building and having it live in harmony next to a new library. There are many places across the country where buildings have been saved and repurposed for many different uses. Please don’t tear this wonderful old building down in haste, let’s look for solutions to keep something old and beautiful while creating something new. Men who were craftsman in their time built your library piece by piece with long gone skills. Please don’t disrespect them or the people in town who want to look for a solution other than destroying one more piece of New Canaan history. Once it’s gone, it’s gone forever. It has been a place of learning and enjoyment to thousands over the years. Please take time to do the right thing before turning it into rubble.

  5. To preserve the old 1913 masonry library while building a new Library beside and behind it is an ideal solution. But if at some future date the Library found it had to sell it to the town or to a local community group, it SHOULD put a preservation restriction on it so it could never be demolished or moved
    Its location on Main St is a critical element of its historic significance, signifying the end of Main Street’s “downtown” just as Town Hall signifies the beginning- since 1913!

  6. I am totally in favor of saving the original 1913 Library Building, and Tom Butterworth has a very good plan to do so. People need to really take a good look at this beautiful building in order to appreciate it. It was built with such care as Robert Waibel says above – “piece by piece with long gone skills”.
    A building like this is an asset to our town, and a great gift from the past that shouldn’t be squandered. It is part of our identity, that familiar landmark that creates the unique look of our town. And, it’s important to know that it has been examined by experts who find it in very good condition as well.
    We are the current guardians of this great building and we have to do our part to keep it around for future generations like those who came before us have done.

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