Funding phase for new library underway
NEW CANAAN — Underutilized and with infrastructural weaknesses, the New Canaan Library is hoping that its fundraising for a new facility will come to fruition in a year’s time.
The “leadership” phase - also known as the fundraising phase - for the new library capital campaign began about seven weeks ago, according to executive director Lisa Oldham.
“We’re talking to prospective donors and people are very enthusiastic about the plans and how it’ll be a real asset to town,” Oldham said.
The plans for construction, which currently have the exteriors established, are expected to cost about $25 million to $30 million depending on if underground parking is added. The library would not release how much they have raised to this point.
For now, the library, as in past years, has had to allocate several thousand dollars to repair ongoing infrastructure flaws.
“The boiler failed inspection, I had to authorize $10,000 for a piece of work. The infrastructure is overheating, the plumbing sometimes doesn’t work - there are inherent weaknesses in the building,” Oldham said.
Contributions to the New Canaan Library go towards collection services, building maintenance and programs. You can contribute here: https://newcanaanlibrary.org/support/
The subzero temperatures in the first week of January also cost the library. The automatic doors closed and the heating failed, forcing the library to invest in work repairs.
The library has been at 151 Main St. since 1913. The building was expanded and renovated in 1937, 1952 and 1979 according to the library website.
Underutilized space has also been a foremost issue. During exam week, hundreds of students check in at the library to study making it difficult to maintain clean and available spaces.
“We have technically 37,000 square feet and 30 percent of that is underutilized space and it’s very inefficient,” Oldham said over the sound of the mechanical room, which had recently sprung a leak.
Christle Chumney, the manager of public services at the library, focuses on dealing with patrons but because of the building’s shortcomings, her team spends much time away from their posts - time she would rather dedicate to assisting people.
“It’s a building and space issue,” Chumney said. “I had to spend half an hour managing space between rooms downstairs. Two to three hours each day are devoted by our team to go through these issues, there’s a lot of stress involved.”
Building size limitations also affect the number of people who are able to be accommodated for lectures and the children’s room.
“These things may seem simple but they’re time-consuming and it interrupts whatever other things we’re working on. We can only turn the heat on at sometimes and I have to remember - if you add up all the time, it accumulates,” Chumney added.
The offices for the Information Technology team used to be quiet space desks but a growth in staff personnel pushed the library to restructure the space’s purpose. “We create workspaces in corridors at the back (of the second floor) and we built this because we don’t have quiet spaces,” Oldham said.
Back in 2017, two years of negotiations to purchase 48 South Ave. came to a satisfying end for the library. The property, which cost a total of $1,475,000, had a $475,000 awarded by the Board of Finance in September 2016. Obtaining the South Avenue property was key to the campaign efforts as a full footprint was required prior to architectural planning.