It’s not a “renovation.” Nor is it a “remodeling.”
On August 1, the Westport Library breaks ground on a “transformation” project.
Through 21 months of construction — during which it remains open for use — the 31-year-old building will be reimagined, top to bottom.
The stark and dark lower level — currently home to the video department, offices, the cramped McManus Room and a few offices — turns into a place of light, nature and activity.
The offices facing the river will be recaptured for patrons’ use — with larger windows, to enjoy the view.
The functional Taylor parking lot entrance becomes more welcoming. A 2nd entrance — midway up Jesup Green — offers another access to the main level.
The result of all this is a better visual and visceral connection between the library, the river and the green.
The DVD/BluRay collection — accounting for 35% of the library’s check-outs — moves to the main floor.
So does the very popular McManus meeting room — where it will be 4 times larger.
The main level — the one accessible now only from the Levitt Pavilion lot — undergoes a mind-boggling transformation.
The cafe expands threefold. With more food choices, an outdoor terrace, a new connection to the Sheffer Reading Room and a special entrance allowing it to be used after hours for events like author and poetry readings, this area can become an actual destination.
The newspaper and magazine reading rooms — with their gorgeous river views — remain. But mobile furniture makes them more flexible.
The hulking service desk gets revamped, to be more open and inviting. Director Bill Harmer calls the area next to it “The Hub,” where staff members offer assistance.
The main room gets acoustic tiles, helping noise and aesthetics. Dozens of power outlets will line the perimeter.
But that’s only the start.
A raised floor will be built over the art display kiosks (which are actually air intake vents, too costly to move). The grandstand will be similar to Times Square. Harmer envisions similar excitement, interaction, dreaming and activity.
A giant LED screen and excellent sound system add to the possibilities.
The current book stacks move one floor below, freeing up room for what Harmer calls “open, flexible community forum space.” With room for 500 people (and a large screen), it’s a spot for collaborative work, and large programs.
The entire space can be cleared if needed, for exhibitions or trade-type shows.
The Maker Space has already been disassembled, and reopened temporarily on the top floor. It will reappear — in a larger form — where the reference section, offices and computers are now. It too will have an after-hours entrance.
Harmer describes the new area as “community-oriented hacker space.” Laser cutters, lathes, power tools, sewing machines and kilns will allow for even more than tinkering, robotics, coding and 3D printing.
“We’ll provide the tools of invention,” Harmer says. “We’ll bring the community together to create magic.”
Sounds interesting, but noisy?
No problem: It’s all sound-proofed.
The nearby recording studio will be sound-proofed too. “It’s not Abbey Road,” Harmer apologizes. But — designed by Rob Fraboni, an audio engineer who has worked with the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, the Band, the Beach Boys, Eric Clapton and Joe Cocker — it will offer another immersive experience for patrons.
Seven conference/study rooms — more than double the current 3 — will be loaded with technology.
The new McManus Room is planned for the far end of the main floor — closest to the police station — where the stacks are now. Windows will brighten that now-dark corner of the library.
Upstairs, the balcony comes out another 5 feet. That provides “box seats” for all that goes on below, while easing the current hallway space crunch.
The Children’s Department gets an extreme makeover too. More natural light, and a bit of reconfiguring of shelves, enlivens that important area. Giant porthole windows will enable kids to look out over the Great Hall.
The price tag for all this is $19.5 million. The town of Westport provides a quarter of the funding. The other three-quarters comes from individual, foundation and corporate donations (including a $1 million state grant).
The library has raised all but $4 million of what’s needed. Bridge financing is already in place.
The Westport Library sits on some of Westport’s most beautiful — and valuable — real estate.
It’s also one of our town’s most used — and valuable — resources.
Less than 2 years from now, the library will be “transformed.”
The project will transform more than the building, and Jesup Green around it.
It will transform all of downtown.
And all of us, too.
(To learn more about the Westport Library transformation project, click here.)