Feb. 14, 2023
Some day soon—“it could even be today,” Town Council Chair Steve Karl said Tuesday morning, addressing a crowd of 300-plus people gathered outside the new New Canaan Library—a boy or girl “will walk through these doors and learn to read for the first time.”
“They’ll be holding their parents’ hands, and when they leave here they may leave with a book in the other hand,” Karl said. “Their eyes will be open and they will begin a journey of learning that will last a lifetime. It’s been a magical journey on the corner of Main and Cherry for 100 years now. I actually learned to read here, as well. When the ribbon is cut in a few short minutes, it will represent hundreds of thousands of hours in long-range planning, thoughtful design, hard work, gritty determination and literally a small army of people putting this together.”
More than three years after library officials unveiled a vision for a dramatically reimagined facility and campus, New Canaan Library opened its doors at 9 a.m. on Feb. 14. Elected and appointed town officials, past and present, municipal workers, library staff, board members and patrons gathered outside the new Maple Street entrance to the library for a formal ribbon-cutting on the building.
“Our community has been a giving and generous place for generations, built on volunteerism and personal commitment, and this project is the newest symbol of that spirit that lives within each one of us,” Karl said.
He added, “The community is also looking forward to the second and third phases of the project which include the exterior terraces, extensive landscaping and obviously creation of the town green. And of course, the town bodies have asked for the saving and relocation of the historical 1913 building and there is still much work to be done. Once completed, our community will have a campus that will be the envy not only of every town in Connecticut, but across the nation.”
Karl, library Executive Director Lisa Oldham, Board of Trustees President Bob Butman, Jim and Dede Bartlett and Board of Finance Chair Todd Lavieri all addressed the crowd during a 30-minute ceremony that culminated with the formal ribbon-cutting.
Then the community poured into the new building, most taking in the 42,000-square-foot space for the first time. Even as people greeted each other and were awed by their first looks at areas such as the children’s room, Jim & Dede Bartlett Auditorium, “living room” mezzanine and outdoor terrace, the library patrons could be seen making use of the brand-new facility—reading newspapers by the living room’s fireplace, setting up a workday at a computer monitor by the co-working area and playing in the southwest corner of the children’s area. (More than 3,000 people passed through the new library’s doors on the day it opened, Oldham said later.)
Butman noted that the new library was a “Herculean effort” that will serve “generations to come” in New Canaan. He thanked the Board of Selectmen, which “recognized the importance of this project to the town and they helped us overcome numerous obstacles to keep the ball rolling forward,” as well as the Board of Finance, Town Council and Planning & Zoning Commission.
In thanking the finance board, he said, “Three years ago, the Board of Finance had the foresight to not only help us kickstart his project with a $10 million grant, but most recently provided us with long-term financing in the form of a construction loan to complete the overall library campus.”
In thanking the Town Council, he noted that the legislative body “saw fit to make sure that the vote for final town approval for library funding was a resounding ‘yes’ and heard loud and clear throughout the community.”
Butman added, “We plan to have phase two of this project wrapped up by year end, which will include the relocation and preservation of the 1913 building and the completion of a beautiful town green.”
Individuals thanked by Butman and other speakers included Karl, Lavieri, Judy Dunn, John Goodwin, Chris LeBris, Neil Budnick, Tom Schulte, Bob Spangler, Rob Mallozzi, Ian Hobbs, Dave Rucci, Christine Seaver, Amanda Martocchio, Lynn Brooks Avni, Oldham, Ellen Crovatto, Cheryl Capitani, Victor Lopez, Dan Jones, Christine Seaver, Nick Williams, Kathleen Corbet, Kevin Moynihan, Eileen Thomas, Deborah Gordon, Tom Teles, Robert Lowe, Tiger Mann, Brian Platz, John Engel, Mark Grzymski and Gillian Zinser.
Karl called Oldham “a big-picture, ceiling-shattering, no-nonsense, Band Aid-ripping leader who has a tenacious and collaborative energy that is not only admirable but incredibly contagious … Lisa, New Canaan owes you a huge thanks, and if we had keys to the city, you would have them. In conclusion, on this historic February 14th, our collective community hearts are overflowing with joy, admiration and love—on Valentine’s Day—as we celebrate the grand opening of this iconic building. What a remarkable gift to New Canaan.”
Oldham said she’d been contacted about the library job in New Canaan just about 10 years ago “and it was to come and do this, and it’s just a remarkable thing to be here this a.m in front of all of you.”
Many people worked for decades “to plan and build this incredible platform for lifelong learning, grounded in the principles of sustainability and access for all,” Oldham said.
“The new library will inspire the imagination and creativity of our visitors, young and old. It will be a hub that will build a stronger, more resilient community as people interact and create new ties, as they learn together about shared interests through our broad and diverse programs, as they pursue their learning journeys through our collections. It’s a place where New Canaanites will come together and share and discuss ideas and ideals. We now have wonderful new spaces. We have plenty of meeting rooms and study places. Comfortable furniture that makes spending time at the library a joyful experience, whatever your intellectual or cultural pursuit. There are quiet spaces for work and study, well-designed spaces for reading and lively program spaces for children and adults to enjoy learning together. This new facility is the very embodiment of a public-private partnership. It shows the power of a strong and generous community.”
Lavieri in his remarks called Oldham “tenacious” and rated the library project as “one of the jewels in the crown” of New Canaan, whose other outstanding public-private partnerships include Dunning Field, Bristow Park, Waveny Park Conservancy, The Playhouse, Mead Park Lodge and New Canaan High School Planetarium.
Jim Bartlett said he was “thrilled to be here to represent the hundreds” of people who helped “make the dream of a new New Canaan Library a reality.”
“Like them, we are inspired by an innovative vision to enhance the fabric of our community,” he said.
Dede Bartlett said she and her husband were “thrilled’ on first seeing plans for the new building.
“We were overwhelmed,” she said. “We knew how transformative it would be for the town, and look at what this is today. My God, this is incredible. So all the hundreds of people who made this happen, it’s a big day for all of us. It’s a huge day for all of New Canaan. It’s a huge day for future generations who are going to gather here, learn here, be entertained and be stimulated. And so we are thrilled to be part of this and we hope that everyone who has contributed so brilliantly along the way will continue, because this project needs to be continued.”