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Friday, April 15, 2011

Man About Town: Library Offers Volumes of Resources

Man About Town: Library Offers Volumes of Resources
(column reworked for April 6 Fairfield Citizen news)
By Mike Lauterborn

Of late, my Man About Town missions have taken me to cafes, diners, taverns and other eateries popular with area citizenry. As important from a local perspective are the institutions and communal meeting places that are anchors of our vibrant town. A leading example is Fairfield Public Library at 1080 Old Post Road, where I found myself one recent sunny Sunday afternoon.

According to historical records, the forerunner of the public library was the Fairfield Memorial Library, which opened Dec. 27, 1876 in the Fairfield Academy building. For a fee of one dollar a year, a borrower was permitted to take a book at a time from a collection of 677 volumes.

In June 1903, a new building, at the library’s present location, was established. A two-story Colonial, it was designed so it could be added to in future years. In 1950, operation of the facility was taken over by the town and its current designation adopted. Additions to the building were completed in 1959 and 1981, followed by a major renovation in 2004/2005, which resulted in many updates and new spaces.

According to Library Director Karen Ronald, “Today, we offer 353,000 volumes of media, have about 38,000 patrons and are used by 75% of town residents. It’s been a community center for over 100 years and kept up with the times in terms of programs that meet changing societal needs and 21st century technologies.”

One of the facility’s newest spaces is The Children’s Library, on the second level. It is divided into “neighborhoods” each reflecting a familiar historic town landmark: the Gazebo, Penfield Lighthouse, Town Green, a farm yard, book shop, train station and Town Hall.

A frequent destination for Fairfielder Kerry Micinilio, visiting with daughter Mollie, 3, she said, “Mollie likes to play on the computer, picks out different movies and books, uses the sound tubes to chat with me and plays in the playhouse. It’s full of a lot of learning resources for the young kids.”

The Teen Room functions as a separate space for teens to gather, and includes materials and computers geared to their use. Ongoing events are featured here including chess matches and video game competitions.

Buried in a book, Ashley Vazquez, 15, said, “I usually come here to work on projects. It’s a good quiet room and has a lot of resources that are helpful.”

The Periodical Room on the main level houses more than 275 magazines, journals, newsletters and newspapers. It’s a relaxing space with deep-seated chairs and original marble mosaic floors.

Flipping through a newspaper, Fairfielder Jim Janniello, 88, said about the library, “It’s almost my second home,” he said. “I spend a lot of time on the computer trading stocks and read the daily papers. The library is one of the most important parts of town, for people to stay current, educate themselves and relax.”

Other facility features include the Bruce S. Kershner Gallery with exhibits that change out monthly, three meeting rooms that are utilized for movie showings, live performances, author talks and more, and the Harold B. Harris Computer Lab offering 15 terminals for public use.

A Reference Area with work tables, New Books/Large Type Books area and Audio/Visual section with hundreds of DVDs, audio books and CDs, round out main library departments. The resources are truly astounding and there’s never a dull moment with all the daily activities and goings-on for all segments of the library’s patronage.

On that note, I’ll “check out” of this chapter of Man About Town with a goal to eye other important town anchors in forthcoming installments.

“Spring Fling” All About Fun, Food, Fine Wine and Friends

“Spring Fling” All About Fun, Food, Fine Wine and Friends
By Mike Lauterborn
(For Fairfield Citizen News)

Fairfield, CT – Exquisite bottles of wine. Lavish spreads of food. A stately setting. So this is how business gets done in Fairfield.

On Thursday evening April 7, the annual installment of “The Spring Fling”, hosted by the Fairfield Chamber of Commerce, brought together area business representatives and local residents for networking and fun at the Burr Mansion, 739 Old Post Road. The event offered tasty foods provided by Fairfield restaurants Coromandel, Fairfield CafĂ©, Greenhouse Grill, Old Post Tavern and Vino & Mare on the Brickwalk, as well as fine wines from Greenfield Liquor Grapes and Hops.

Other event highlights included door prizes such as a “Men’s Party Package” with Sound Tiger tickets, a “Queen for the Day” spa package and a “Just Won the Lottery” offer with weekend use of a Mercedes Benz and gift certificate to Roger Sherman Inn. There were also dozens of silent auction items, ranging from retail gift offers and vacation getaways to gift baskets and sports tickets. Of course, what would an upscale gathering like this be without a live auction for a chance to hunt pheasant and have the captured quarry prepared gourmet style by DaPietro’s chef Pietro Scotti?

“We’ve been hosting this for 15 years,” said Patricia L. Ritchie, President and CEO of the Chamber, providing some background about the gathering. “It began humbly at Greenwich Workshop Gallery as a fundraiser for the Chamber, to help it market Fairfield small businesses. But it’s also a great networking event as well as a chance for people to sample wonderful food and wines.”

You might venture to call the event a five-alarm affair, given the appearance of the Fairfield Fire Dept. at the start of the evening. Firefighter Scott suggested the heat emanating from the food stations may have tripped a sensitive alarm. Ritchie had another idea, joking, “The event is such a hot ticket that even the fire department had to put in an appearance.”

Fairfielders Lisa McDonnell and China Ross were barely fazed, their attention focused on silent auction items. “I’m loving the Coach sunglasses and will probably bid on them,” said McDonnell.

For Melissa Tohill from Monroe and Daniela Kinsbourne from Ridgefield, the evening provided an excuse for a Girls’ Night Out. “We came to enjoy the food and wine,” said Tohill, “but it’s a great opportunity to support local businesses and meet some new people in the community at the same time.”

Abhay Colaco, a manager at Coromandel, was glad for the opportunity to showcase the restaurant. “This is good for the town and very good for our business, too, especially as we are new in the Southport area,” he said. “We hope to expose people to different flavors of India.”

Gary Adams of Bearingstar Insurance, one of the evening sponsors, had a similar take on the event. “Many people join the Chamber for different reasons – networking, benefits, etc. But regardless of motive, ultimately it’s to support the local community. It’s great, in this case, that the public gets to meet area business leaders.”

For Carla Cinti, the event was an opportunity to get a local foothold. “I’m newly relocated from California, re-entering the workforce after being home with my kids for nine years and am here to network and meet my new community. Hopefully I’ll find someone who will lead me to my next career.”

Jill Clarke had established a foothold two years ago, co-founding Mirth In a Box, which she described as “the anti-fruit basket company offering fun and unusual gift boxes.” She was hoping to make some new connections and raise awareness about the business and said the event is “a great way to interact, see old friends and meet some new faces.”

Many would depart with new contacts and business leads. Lee Passios would leave with a bit more when it was announced that her live auction bid was the topper. “I can’t wait to go out there with my slingshot and jelly beans to get that pheasant,” she laughed.

Bike/Pedestrian Forum a Two-Way Street for Idea Exchange

Bike/Pedestrian Forum a 
Two-Way Street for Idea Exchange
By Mike Lauterborn
(for Fairfield Citizen)

Fairfield, CT – The experts crunched the data and outlined approaches. Citizens rolled up their sleeves and marked up maps. At the end of the session, targets of concern had been isolated for a further look.

Hosted by the Fairfield Bicycle and Pedestrian Plan Advisory Committee Thursday evening April 14 at Osborn Hill School, an open forum focused on issues related to traversing the town’s highways, byways and sidewalks. Following an informal reception, various town departments outlined their involvement in the bicycle and pedestrian plan, results from the related 2010 survey were presented and the approximately 90 attendees were split into groups by neighborhood to make recommendations addressing trouble spots.

Providing background about the Committee, Laura Lanham, Constituent Concerns Coordinator in the Office of the First Selectman, said, “Formed about a year ago, it’s comprised of a small group of town officials and members of the public, along with the Greater Bridgeport Regional Planning Agency (GBRPA). Its survey was made available online last summer and received responses from 554 residents. It sought to identify areas of concern and where residents currently walk and bike. From the feedback, the GBRPA has initiated a plan, upon which we are soliciting input from the general public.”

Resident Meg Capodanno came dressed for the occasion, rolling into the meeting room with her bicycle and related gear. “I’m an avid cyclist,” she said, “and think Fairfield has the potential to be a town easily accessed by bike/foot. But most people don’t travel around much because of traffic issues. People are not cautious and some react very aggressively to bikers. I would like to see bike lanes in a one-mile radius around all schools.”

First Selectman Ken Flatto opened the presentation, crediting Fairfielder Alyssa Israel with initiating the planning. “She kept saying ‘you’ve gotta do something’ and it took off from there.”

Kristen Etela, who heads up the Advisory Committee, said the evening was the result of months of effort. “It’s the culmination of work we’ve been doing to become a truly walkable, bikeable, livable community,” she said. “We looked at many aspects including transportation, environment, our natural resources, local economy, health and safety. We’re at a critical point where we need your help to meet goals we’ve outlined.”

Fairfield Police Deputy Chief Chris Lyddy spoke to safety issues. “This venture will help us define how to make Fairfield safer,” he said. “We’re committed to doing everything we can to reduce accidents.”

Director of Planning and Zoning Joe Devonshuk said his department’s role has been to review the Committee’s proposals to ensure they meet town guidelines. “We’re anticipating a report, much of which we expect will mirror our own plans.”

Bill Hurley, Town Engineer, said he has been busy gathering citizen concerns about sidewalks and access, and analyzing those sites. “Neighbor support, though, is key in addressing,” he said. “We’re seeking input about connecting sidewalks and have already had some achievements in areas of town with regard to the Safe Routes to School initiative.”

Public Health Educator Sarah Levy said there are great incentives to increase bike and pedestrian access. “One of the most significant health issues in this country is the lack of physical activity, which results in such conditions as high cholesterol, heart disease and loss of muscle mass. The upside is that these conditions respond well to increased activity.”

Mark Nielsen of the GBRPA was the most vocal of presenters, outlining plan goals and presenting survey results. “Almost all surveyed voiced concern about safety and indicated a desire for better access,” he said. “Popular areas they travel to include town center, the beach area and the university, which aligns with where they say they bike.”

Nielsen shared a desire to move to a “complete streets” policy wherein roadways are converted to accommodate all users, not just automobiles. Complete street enhancements would include streetscape elements, use of permeable materials, on-street parking designation and bicycle facilities. For bikers, approaches include shared roadways, bike lanes, painted bike boxes and shared-use paths. For pedestrians, wider sidewalks, curb extensions, textured pavement, raised medians and signals are all considerations.

Emerging from their breakout sessions, the Greenfield Hill team suggested making Bronson Road more biker friendly. The Stratfield area group imagined Stratfield Road is wide enough to be biked, though sidewalks were lacking. They also desired more connections to shopping and the new train station. The Tunxis Hill set suggested Black Rock Turnpike be made more pedestrian friendly, and include a centralized bike parking area. The Town Center crew wanted sidewalks for Round Hill Road, improved crosswalks and bike storage facilities at the train station. Southport wanted better continuity between bike paths and town center.

“Almost all of this is about speed though,” said Clif Meyers. “It would be great if we could enforce limits in a non-punitive way. I think we could flourish.”