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Fairfield Library Asks for New Woods Branch

FAIRFIELD, Conn. – The Fairfield Woods Branch Library has a long list of problems. It’s too small to accommodate the 836 customers who use it every day. Both the roof and the basement leak during rainstorms. Much of the library is inaccessible to people with disabilities.

The Board of Library Trustees announced its preferred solution for all these problems Wednesday: It wants to tear the building down and construct a new Fairfield Woods Branch Library.

“Renovation options were really only band-aid options. We’re still retaining the problems within that building,” said Manyul Im, a board member. “Reconstruction, we think, will avoid in the long run costs associated with the renovation issues.”

The Fairfield Woods Branch Library is the busiest branch in Connecticut, circulating nearly 323,000 items a year. The building was constructed in 1969 and has not seen a major renovation since 1991.

One of the major issues is the leaks. The 35-year-old roof was scheduled to be replaced in 2008, but then-First Selectman Kenneth Flatto delayed the project because of the bad economy. The basement also shows water seepage in heavier downpours.

The building is also not compliant with the Americans With Disabilities Act. The mezzanine, which contains most of the library's books, is accessible only by a pair of staircases. A person with a wheelchair has no way to get to the collection. Getting to the basement community rooms is also difficult in a wheelchair, because of an outdated elevator that with small quarters.

“Every part of the library should be accessible to everyone, regardless of their physical abilities,” said town librarian Karen Ronald.

The trustees launched a feasibility study last year to find solutions. Two plans for expanding the library were turned down because they would either be too difficult or too expensive. The board offered two other options: fix the roof and foundation, or build a new library.

The trustees estimate that just renovations would cost the town about $8.7 million but would not fix the mezzanine access problem. A new library would cost about $13 million by the board’s estimates. It would also most likely require more staff members to operate at full capacity.

The library asked the Board of Selectmen to form a building committee to look into the options. The selectmen did not make a decision on the request Wednesday.

“We have major financial stresses. … Next year’s going to get even worse,” said Selectman James Walsh. “I think it’s going to be a hard sell to this community for a tear down of this building.”

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