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Monday, October 18, 2010

Community Forum on 21st Century Library Plans Draws Varied Feedback

Community Forum on 21st Century Library Plans Draws Varied Feedback
(Appeared on New Canaan 10/18)
By Mike Lauterborn
© 2010. All Rights Reserved.

New Canaan, CT -- There was no lack of input from community residents that gathered Sunday afternoon October 17 for an open forum at New Canaan Library at which library officials provided a status update on plans to bring the facility into the 21st century.

Held in the bottom-level Adrian Lamb Room, the hour-long session at the 151 Main Street location was introduced by Karen Stevenson, Board of Trustees President, and presented by Library Director Alice Knapp. Board Members Jeff Williams and Elizabeth Ellsworth were also on hand to moderate and field questions from more than 50 residents in attendance.

The library has moved, changed and grown since its founding as a free reading room in 1877. The current building, which has experienced multiple renovations and additions, has been in place since 1913. The last addition was in 1979. In the Board’s view, the facility is “an old building with an old system” and has multiple problems and shortfalls. “The library has outgrown the space, cannot amply accommodate the technology and group study needs of teens and is underserving children, among leading faults. Meanwhile, utilization has grown fourfold,” said Ellsworth.

The Board reasoned that a new, more functional facility on another piece of town land that maintained a central location and convenience to schools was required.
Initial plans suggest the incorporation of “green” standards, a cafĂ©, technology/business center, drive-thru services, configurable rooms and a tiered auditorium with a modern sound system.

Toward this goal, library officials have conducted “a ton of due diligence”, presented a strategic plan back in May, led public tours outlining problems and performed a quantitative survey. The latter received responses from 400 facility users, 97% of who agreed that change, growth or improvement was needed.

The Board’s recommendation, coupled with the town’s other project plans, has raised concerns in the community. However, as the forum illustrated, there is abundant support for the plan as well.

On the critical end of the spectrum, resident Nancy Greenspon said, “I fail to see the need for a new library. Sure, it’s nice to have, but I see the library as a place to read, study and meet… and we do this now with great pleasure. Have you considered building up, like they do all the time in New York?”

Knapp defended that $150K is currently being spent per year to upkeep an aging building, including replacing two roofs and components of the HVAC system. This is wasting funds that could be spent on programming.

A proponent of a new facility, Nancy Harper said, “This library is woefully inadequate for this town. All you have to do is walk through it. Where is all this fear coming from? Come on, people. Let’s go.” Resident Stan Russ agreed, saying, “The library’s been using a shoehorn for too many years.”

Fred Chang, a 24-year town resident, preferred a cautionary stance, suggesting that while qualitative aspects had been addressed, the financial costs were not yet clear and that is “critical to putting the community at ease.” Williams said, “The library is still in the process of defining elements and translating plans to financials and more details will follow.”