‘We Feel a Bit Bamboozled’: Unhappy Finance Board Votes To Commit $3.9 Million for NCHS Fields Projects; Figure Is Up $800,000 Since April

Decrying a lack of transparency, finance officials on Tuesday night still approved a revisited bonding package of $3.9 million for fields upgrades now underway at New Canaan High School—$800,000 more in town funds than the project had been estimated to cost just five months ago. While praising the volunteer New Canaan Athletic Foundation for its fundraising, members of the Board of Finance also voiced concerns that a town-appointed committee that includes NCAF members—ostensibly a group charged with helping to oversee the fields projects—this summer withheld critical information about a higher-than-expected bid for the work as well as other costs that drove up the price tag. Instead of disclosing in late June to town funding bodies that some costs related to the fields projects had come in far higher than expected, committee members decided to change parts of the agreed-upon project on their own, spending public money in ways not vetted before the Board of Finance or Town Council, officials said. Representatives of that committee—namely, Bob Spangler and Mike Benevento (it also includes Amy Bennett, Scott Werneburg and Nick Williams)—defended their decision by saying it was the best way to ensure the fields would be completed on time. They focused on getting the baseline fields and track work done and, as a result, the existing Water Tower turf field, re-graded and with a costly repair to its former slope, will be ready by the end of this month, while the second turf field and track will be done by mid-November, Spangler said.

‘The Community Is Behind It’: Finance Board Votes 8-0 in Favor of $475,000 for New Canaan Library As Rebuilding Project Nears

Calling New Canaan Library a vital community hub whose new building will benefit the town in numerous ways, finance officials on Tuesday night unanimously supported a proposed $475,000 special appropriation for the organization. Approved 8-0 by the Board of Finance at the group’s regular meeting, the funds are designed to help the library acquire a key property on its block and trigger a widely anticipated capital campaign. Purchasing the .19-acre property at 48 South Ave., currently the site of a rented multifamily dwelling, “is critical to any plans the library might have, because not only does it complete the campus footprint but setback rules would make other properties that they have acquired useless for construction purposes and limit their use for parking spaces,” finance board member Chris LeBris said during the meeting, held at Town Hall. “So the entrance to town—instead of having a nice new library building—would be, essentially, several blocks of parking as you drive down South Avenue, so for the town aesthetics there is a reason to do this.”

The appropriation still requires the approval of the Town Council, which meets next week. Conceived by town leaders after library officials said during budget discussions last fiscal year that they would go forward with their rebuilding plans even without it, the appropriation has received wide community support, finance board member said.

‘A Very Good Investment for Our Community’: Town Could Help Library Acquire Key Final Property for Rebuilding Plan

The town stands to benefit aesthetically, culturally and otherwise if New Canaan Library in planning its rebuilt facility has a properly sized and configured parcel with which to work, officials said Tuesday. Because of setback regulations, a major gateway into the New Canaan at South Avenue and Maple Street realistically could only serve as a parking lot unless the library is able to acquire a key .19-acre property on its block, the town’s highest elected official said during a meeting of the Board of Finance. So if it’s feasible and residents and town officials support the idea, New Canaan ought to consider helping the library purchase that property, according to First Selectman Rob Mallozzi, who serves as chairman of the finance board. “There is an opportunity for this town to demonstrate to our library what we think and be a partner in their vision that I think is fundamental for the success of this community,” Mallozzi said during the finance board’s regular meeting, held at Town Hall. Doing so would bolster “the look and feel of the community as you approach our downtown village, and, I think, truly jumpstart a capital campaign to the library that would lead to a phenomenal facility over the next few years.”

He added: “I think it would be a very good investment for our community.”

That investment, if it’s made, remains some months away, according to finance board member Neil Budnick.

‘A Smart, Level-Headed Consensus-Builder’: Fond Farewell for New Canaan Library Board’s Christian Le Bris

The New Canaan Library Board of Trustees on Tuesday evening bid bond farewell to Christian Le Bris, its president for the past two years whose steady head and hand are credited with helping to build consensus and, together with Library Director Lisa Oldham, strengthen the institution’s relationship with the town. Le Bris in serving for the maximum of two consecutive 3-year terms on the board has been “invaluable to the library and instrumental in making it the wonderful institution that it is today,” new board President Alicia Wyckoff said during the library’s annual meeting, held in the Lamb Room. “He has been a clear and effective representative of the library to the town. He has led the board with quiet strength and has governed by consensus, creating a governing body that fully supports the library and the library organization and its executive director. Chris is smart, level-headed, a consensus-builder and most importantly, he can really make you laugh.”

During the 30-minute meeting, board members and staff: updated attendees on the library’s finances—total support income of $2.8 million for the fiscal year ended June 30, mostly through the annual campaign, exceeding budget by 2 percent, with an endowment fund of $1.1 million and capital fund of $1.5 million; received an operational update from Oldham, including on personnel, programming, investments in technology and newly defined role’s (such as the very popular Reader’s Advisor); voted to amend a part of the library’s bylaws; and formally appointed new board members.

Study: New Canaan Library Can Raise $25 Million for Rebuilding Project

New Canaan Library can expect to raise $25 million for its renovation project, officials said Wednesday, and the new facility is expected nearly to double the amount of current usable space. Though that figure—supplied in a fundraising feasibility study completed this summer—is short of what would be needed to realize early-stage renderings of a $37 million building, library officials had suspected that would be the case and are prepared to re-engage Connecticut-based Centerbrook Architects to “ask them to revise the plans and give us drawings and a conceptual framework of the best building that we can get on our existing footprint for $25 million,” Board of Trustees President Christian Le Bris said during the regular meeting of the Town Council. “And what we suspect will happen is that we will have the same quality building but it will be smaller,” Le Bris said during the meeting, held in the Sturgess Room at the New Canaan Nature Center. The discussion arose during a presentation from Director Lisa Oldham about ways the library has reorganized staff, such as by creating a Readers’ Advisor role, expanded technology offerings, launched new programming, refreshed its layout and otherwise modernized and tailored itself to a future facility. Just two-thirds or so of the current, 37,000-square-foot building is usable, Oldham said.