Univ. presents library plans

The University will present a new proposal on Monday for renovations to the Yale-owned Lewis Walpole Library in Farmington, Conn., a month after the town’s zoning commission rejected the original redesign.

The commission originally ordered the University to revise its plans for the building — which houses a rare collection of 18th-century British literature — on the grounds that the plans did not complement the neighborhood’s historical character. But officials on both sides of the deal said they are optimistic that the yearlong renovation will be approved now that Yale has added more rustic architectural details.

University Planner Laura Cruickshank said that while she was excited about the original proposal, she sympathizes with the commission’s concern for historic context.

“I was disappointed, because we had a good plan,” she said. “I have confidence that we will go back to the town on Monday, show them we were paying attention to what they said and move ahead.”

The University-operated research library houses the collections of English scholar Wilmarth Sheldon Lewis ’18, who built the original structure from his own home and barn and left the building and collections to Yale after his death in 1979. Walpole Librarian Margaret Powell said the new changes will add much-needed work space, climate controls, and accessibility for visiting scholars.

Though the renovation will not greatly expand the building’s footprint, it will replace some areas — including an old garage and squash court — with more modern facilities.

“It will give the collection housing and an environment that is appropriate to its importance,” Powell said.

The collection includes 32,000 books, 30,000 prints and a large compilation of manuscripts and art pieces.

In a 4-2 ruling during its March 13 meeting, the Farmington Town Plan and Zoning Commission suggested that Yale add more details to the facade of the barn-like building, including different siding materials and more doors or windows.

“The proposed addition, as it is presently designed, is not in keeping with the present and future characteristics of the neighborhood,” the commission’s secretary wrote in a letter to the University.

Thomas Taylor, a Farmington architect, said the area in question — which locals affectionately call “the village” — is architecturally homogenous and heavily residential. Some of the neighborhood’s buildings date back to the 17th century, he said, and residents carefully guard their community from changes.

“It’s a pretty distinct historic district, as historic districts go,” Taylor said. “They’re all very concerned with maintaining the character of the village.”

But officials at Yale and in Farmington said the University has already earned the town’s popular support with its original renovation plan. Taylor’s partner was one of several residents who attended the March 13 meeting to speak in favor of Yale’s plan.

“Yale did meet with a number of neighborhood leaders early on, so by the time they went planning and zoning they had a plan that had found favor with most residents in the area,” Farmington Town Planner Jeff Olendorf said.

The presentation on Monday will be the third that the University has prepared for the zoning commission’s review. In addition to the rejected application, Yale withdrew a proposal that it felt did not properly explain the justifications for the renovation, Olendorf said.

Michael Morand, Yale’s associate vice president for New Haven and state affairs, noted that the proposed renovation received a certificate of appropriateness from the Farmington Historical District Commission in December.

“Our architects have worked very hard to design improvements that meet the needs of the library and complement its historic setting,” he said. “We look forward to our work with the town of Farmington and its planning commission to refine the proposal to meet everyone’s satisfaction.”

If the new proposal is approved, construction will begin in early May and last until summer 2007. The library has already closed while staff move its contents to offsite storage facilities.

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