After five decades of growing pains and five years of retooling plans, Pequot Library is finally ready for an addition, says Dan Snydacker, the library's executive director.

The Town Planning & Zoning Commission will decide whether that's true at its meeting on June 8 in the McKinley School cafeteria. On Tuesday, the commission held a public hearing on the library's plan, which garnered little grief from residents. Should the plan gain approval in June, Snydacker said the 18-month construction process will commence next April.

The proposed plan would roughly double the amount of parking spaces on the Southport property, widen its driveways, and expand the building's backside -- near Westway Road -- and basement.

It would add a new children's wing and a "special collections" area to the library's main floor. It would add to the basement a 30-person classroom, new office space, and enough storage to house the roughly 4,000 boxes of books that pile up each summer as the annual book sale nears, Snydacker said.

"This is not about expanding the programs at the library; it's about meeting our honest-to-God real needs on a daily basis," he said. "We're a small library and we see that as a strength. We want to stay within our own footprint."

Physically, however, that footprint would grow by about 20 percent. Current blueprints see the library's total floor space swelling by roughly 10,000 square feet, bringing the total square footage to 30,000. About 3,500 square feet would be added to the ground floor.

According to Assistant Planning Director Jim Wendt and TPZ Chairman Seth Baratz, the main question that emerged from Tuesday night's public hearing was how the library foresees screening its property -- through fencing or landscaping -- from its neighbors, particularly from the Trinity Church rectory next door.

John Venezia, of 807 Pequot Ave., also submitted a 10-page document to the Planning & Zoning department that calls for the library to make good on its claim to not expand its uses. Venezia filed lawsuits against the town boards that approved the library's original renovation plan earlier this decade, though the lawsuits were settled out of court.

The proposed construction project would cost roughly $10 million, Snydacker said. The library hopes to raise the bulk of those funds through donations by the end of 2010.

"We've had lots of supporters who've been sitting on the sidelines who are now coming forward," he said. "Costs are down now thanks to the recession, so this building will cost us 10 to 15-percent less today than it would have had we got it started before the crash. So anyone who contributes will get that much more bang for their buck."

The library first got approval for an addition in 2004. The plan then was to carry out a double-barreled project that would first do historical restoration work and security-code upgrades, and then expand the building by about 6,000 square feet, according to this newspaper's archives. The first half of the project was completed about four years ago and won an award from the Connecticut Trust for Historic Preservation in 2006.

Library board members then decided to retool the expansion plans.

"The first plans were adequate, but they didn't rise to the level of the programs that we present or the special collections that will be housed inside it," Snydacker said. "It was kind of a ho-hum design, and as we began to appreciate our historic building some more, we realized we were under an obligation to respect that."

The library switched architects, leaving a Boston-based firm and returning to Robert A.M. Stern, a New York City-based architect who'd drawn up initial plans for the project that had been turned down years ago for being too big and expensive. The library gave Stern the acceptable dimensions, Snydacker said, and he drew up the current proposal.

Special Collections

Central to the proposed project, Snydacker said, is the creation of the new "special collections" area. Currently, the library has roughly 30,000 items on loan at Yale University and in storage in Massachusetts. The proposed addition would return all of that material to the library, for the first time in some five decades. It would also add a special collections reading room that would be climate controlled "to the nth degree," Snydacker said.

"That collection has some of the most important works on the early history of America," he went on. "It has an original letter from Christopher Columbus that he wrote after his first voyage [to America], when he came back to Europe. It's essentially a report from the new world, almost the invention of journalism. It got the whole of Europe involved in the colonization effort, a remarkable publication. It was published in different places, and we have one that was published in Rome in 1494, one of just 12 in the world."

The collection also has many first editions of classic American literature, Snydacker said, as well as an extensive history on early Fairfield families and from where they came. "It's one of the best collections of town histories from New England that exist anywhere," Snydacker said. "People come to us rather than go to New York or Boston [to see the material]."

Snydacker, who's an adjunct professor at Fairfield University, has one more vision. Next spring, he'll be teaching a course on the "art and history of the book." One assignment: each student will research, photograph and write up synopsis of one item in the special collection.

"One of our [long-term] goals," he said, "is to have every single piece in the collection researched, photographed, digitized and available online."