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Tuesday, September 02, 2014

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New Canaan Library eyeing new building

Published 11:28 am, Wednesday, February 19, 2014

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  • New Canaan Library's Executive Director Lisa Oldham said a feasibility study was recently launched to determine what level of fundraising the library is likely to achieve to build a new facility. Photo: Nelson Oliveira / New Canaan News
    New Canaan Library's Executive Director Lisa Oldham said a feasibility study was recently launched to determine what level of fundraising the library is likely to achieve to build a new facility. Photo: Nelson Oliveira

 

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After Town Hall, the next building to be partially demolished and rebuilt in New Canaan might be the library. At least that's what Executive Director Lisa Oldham hopes.

Earlier this month, the library launched a feasibility study to determine how much money it could raise for a new facility. Problems with the current location, according to Oldham, include limited space and a 100-year-old infrastructure.

Oldham said the library does not have enough room to accommodate its programs and it "needs a lot more space for people to come and do work."

She noted that there's a great demand for more meeting rooms beyond the three it currently has.

"Often, during the week, all of them are booked at the same time," Oldham said.

Earlier this month, the library had to move its 2014 Richard Salant Lecture -- which featured keynote speaker Ann Curry, of NBC News -- to the New Canaan Country School. Nearly 400 people attended the Feb. 9 event.

In just the past few months, the library has hosted MSNBC's Joe Scarborough, writer Reza Aslan and NBC's Bill Dedman.

"We're really privileged to get these great speakers," Oldham said. "But we don't have enough space to accommodate these events."

CCS, a New York-based fundraising consulting firm, will conduct more than 100 interviews with members of the New Canaan community over the next few months so it can provide an assessment of the library's fundraising capability. The firm expects to have a report by late spring, according to a press release.

The plans for a new library facility have been in the works prior to Oldham's arrival as executive director in July 2013. About two years ago, the library board and management hired Centerbrook Architects and Planners to begin the planning process for a new building.

"Through extensive consultation with a wide and diverse group from the community -- using focus groups and multiple full-day workshops -- it was determined that there was a strong need and desire for a larger and newly purposed library," Oldham said in the press release earlier this month. "Furthermore, it was determined that it will be more cost effective to build new rather than renovate the existing building."

Another reason to build from scratch is because the building has "a very old infrastructure," Oldham said. The library has been at 151 Main St. since 1913. It underwent major expansions in 1937, 1952 and 1979, according to the library's website.

The building and grounds at the library are owned by an association and not the Town of New Canaan. Therefore, the library must raise the majority of funds from private donations for design and construction of a new building.

The library's current revenue, which includes a $1.94 million town grant, is $2.6 million. Though it's called a grant, the money given by the town is taken from the general fund every year.

Another large portion of the revenue comes the library's annual fundraising. For the 2014-15 fiscal year, library officials are expecting to raise about $415,000 from the annual fundraising, but $100,000 would be set aside for capital expenditures, which might include $65,000 to replace the elevator, according to a January budget presentation to the town's governing bodies.

Oldham said the elevator has "well passed its shelf life and is failing regularly."

In January, the library requested an 8.3 percent increase in town grants for the 2014-15 fiscal year, but the Board of Selectmen later recommended an increase of 5 percent, which would add $96,844 to the library's operating budget. In 2013-14, the library didn't have an increase.

The Board of Finance is currently looking into the budget and should have a recommendation by March 11.

Some of the changes the library hopes to make in the current building include adding more furniture and installing a new one-stop service point and a new work space.

Compared with Darien, Wilton and Westport libraries, the New Canaan Library gets the least amount of town grants, per capita, according to the library's budget presentation.

Oldham, whose last job was as a development specialist at the National Library of New Zealand, has led several efforts to build library facilities in the past. Prior to her job at the National Library of New Zealand job, she managed the library system for a regional district, which included planning for the complete renovation and renewal of the central district library and overseeing the construction of one branch library and refurbishment of another.

noliveira@bcnnew.com, 203-330-6582, @olivnelson