VIDEO: New Canaan Library Unveils Dramatic Rebuilding Plans



New Canaan Library on Tuesday unveiled plans for a rebuilt facility that makes dramatically different use of the organization’s gateway block to the downtown and features a glass-and-stone exterior, 300-seat auditorium, rooftop terrace, café, public concourse, fireplace, two large conference rooms and “town green” at the corner of Main and Cherry Streets. Appearing before the Board of Finance ahead of making a formal request for a $10 million town contribution toward the overall $30 million project, library officials described the planned new building as a state-of-the-art facility that opens possibilities in events, programming and gathering for the library and the wider community.  

Library Director Lisa Oldham noted that the real estate and business communities already have voiced support for the project, and that the rebuilt facility is expected to be an asset for New Canaan that draws homebuyers and encourages residents to stay here. She shared projections from a draft economic impact study that the library commissioned the Connecticut Economic Research Council showing “that the library will drive significant new dollars to the local economy, up to $6 million a year in new consumer spending.”

“The town’s critical capital allocation for the library should be viewed as an investment with a clear and quantifiable return in the form of real economic gains that will stimulate our local economy,” Oldham said during the Board’s regular meeting at Town Hall, attended by a standing room-only crowd. 

The library itself has already raised about $15 million toward the project and plans call for a spring 2021 groundbreaking followed by 18 to 24 months of construction. The current building would operate while the new one is built. 

The new 48,000-square-foot building would replace an aging facility with a failing, costly physical plant that hasn’t had a significant renovation in four decades, Oldham said. 

During their presentation to the Board, Oldham and the library’s director of development and marketing, Ellen Crovatto, played a short film that featured 3D renderings of the planned new library’s interior and exterior (see above—it drew loud applause from the room), reviewed the need for a new facility and efforts to solicit input from locals, spotlighted the library’s high community engagement and broke down to-date fundraising successes for the project (including 55-plus gifts of $100,000 or more). 

Board members complimented Oldham and Crovatto on their presentation and plans, which Michael Chen called “mind-blowing.”

“I really think this is a game-changer for the town of New Canaan,” Chen said.

Moynihan: Selectmen May Vote on RFP for Sale of Vine Cottage Next Week

The Board of Selectmen next week will review documents that could lead to the sale of Vine Cottage, New Canaan’s highest elected official said Tuesday. According to First Selectman Kevin Moynihan, the selectmen will review an RFP to either sell the gabled Main Street building or offer “a land lease with a condition that it be done with historic preservation intentions, with an easement.”

The selectmen “will hopefully approve an RFP” during their May 21 meeting, Moynihan told members of the Board of Finance. 

Before New Canaan sells the property, the Town Council would need to hold a public hearing, Moynihan said during the finance board’s regular meeting. Located opposite the firehouse, the 2,334-square-foot Vine Cottage was built in about 1859 and in recent years has housed the New Canaan Department of Human Services. 

That agency is moving into the lower floor of the former Outback Teen Center. Though Selectman Kit Devereaux has called for more public input prior to the town divesting itself of the building, finance board members have pushed for its sale. 

The Town Building Evaluation & Use Committee in its December 2017 report said the town should put off a decision on renovating the building until the future home of the Board of Ed is determined. The following summer, Moynihan noted that the town’s five-year capital plan assumed the antique structure was no longer in New Canaan’s portfolio. 

His comments to the Board of Finance this week came during the first selectman’s regular update on town matters.

‘The Change in Our Community’: Facing Criticism of Sewer Fee Proposal, Finance Board Postpones Vote

Russ Barksdale, president and CEO of Waveny LifeCare Network, received notification this week about $8,5000 in annual sewer usage fees that the nonprofit organization would be expected to pay for the fiscal year starting July 1. A proposal from Town Hall that’s designed to more fairly distribute sewer-related costs among residential and commercial property owners, the fee ultimately would see both for-profit and nonprofit businesses—including churches, charitable organizations and municipal buildings—taxed for water usage for the first time. 

Barksdale in addressing the Board of Finance on Tuesday night during a public hearing on the proposal said he found that his organization, which includes both the Waveny Care Center on Farm Road and The Inn on Oenoke Ridge, would be “hit more than any other nonprofit in our area, sizably more than any other nonprofit.”

“I went to then think of the pebble effect, the pebble effect that it would have for that usage fee to be placed on us as a nonprofit, to be placed upon the other churches and other nonprofits that enrich the culture of this great community that we have in New Canaan,” Barksdale said during the well-attended hearing, held at Town Hall. 

Noting that Waveny has provided some $10 million in charity care in the past two years in ways that saves government spending, Barksdale added, “We have a very fragile, very large group of seniors that come to us who cannot afford or find themselves at the end of being able to afford the highest level of care that we provide. And so I applaud our charity care to provide that. Who do we bill that usage fee to?”

Medicare and Medicaid are not options, he said, and there’s “really no place to pass that fee on to others to be able to incorporate, so we have to as a nonprofit be able to absorb that expense.”

“We would just ask that, similarly to the $15 minimum wage, that you give us an opportunity and all the nonprofits that are here the opportunity to build it within our budget. Right?