Groundbreaking Near For Exciting Library Project

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.

Literally.

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 lower entrance off the Taylor parking lot will be spiffed up and enclosed, resulting in great river views. (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

The offices facing the river will be recaptured for patrons’ use — with larger windows, to enjoy the view.

Right now, offices, doors and a stairwell prevent patrons from enjoying the nearby river. (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

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.

A rendering of the new Jesup Green entrance. It will lead patrons into the upper level about where the graphic novels are located now.

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.

Right now, the gift/store area is cramped — and so is the cafe behind it. A greatly expanded — and more flexible — cafe is in the works. (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

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 area near the massive circulation desk becomes much more user-friendly. (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

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.

The Great Hall will include grandstand seating, over the current art exhibit kiosks (which actually hide air intake vents). Stacks will move downstairs.  The area near the windows will be reimagined, providing great views of Jesup Green. (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

A giant LED screen and excellent sound system add to the possibilities.

A rendering of the grandstand.

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.

A “forum” replaces stacks on the main floor. It’s a flexible space for collaboration and programs, with a large LED screen at the rear. This rendering shows the view toward the police station.

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 old Maker Space has been disassembled. The new one will be even better.

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.

Library director Bill Harmer in the far end of the main floor. Newspapers and stacks will move downstairs, giving way to grandstand seating, an LED screen, the new McManus Room and a recording studio. (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

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.

A much-improved waiting area outside the children’s department is planned. And the nearly unusable balcony will be widened substantially. (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

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.

Small windows in the children’s section — where shelves now line the wall — will give way to large porthole windows. The Robert Lambdin mural will be moved elsewhere (as will the River of Names tile project, now downstairs). (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

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.

Right now, a few areas of the library work well. Views from the children’s department, and the 1st floor Sheffer and magazine reading rooms, will be retained. (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

(To learn more about the Westport Library transformation project, click here.)

13 responses to “Groundbreaking Near For Exciting Library Project

  1. As a member of the first Staples class to enter and graduate from the then “new” Staples High School in 1961, this transformation, like Staples’, is so exciting for our town and everyone who will benefit from this transformation. Dan, you’ve done us all a great service, putting this project in the limelight. It will yet another jewel in Westport’s continuing collection, reasons why living here is such a treat.

  2. The renderings certainly seem to make the overall space more inviting and something that will make the library even more of a community center. I can’t wait to see the finished product.

    One stat that did surprise me: the fact that the DVD/BluRay collection comprises 35% of items checked out. Does that include audio books?

    Also, just curious: will the number of hardcover and paperback books (outside of the children’s collection) be reduced and, if so, by roughly what percentage? It just seems like the downstairs space dedicated to book stacks won’t equal the current space, but maybe I’m wrong about that. (And I admit my bias as someone who likes browsing through books on the stacks before picking one to read.) Thanks.

    • Amy Schneider

      I go to the Norwalk, Wilton and Fairfield libraries for books that are not available at our local library.

  3. An ambitious and exciting project. I think someone once referred to the exterior of the Westport Library as resembling as Soviet fish factory. Looks like this initiative ought to safely put that to bed.

    I do have a quick question about the building’s setting – including the poor old Riverwalk and upper parking lot; a fair assessment of those landscapes areas is that, owing to years of neglect and under maintenance, they are in a state of deterioration. Given that this is a library visitor’s first impression, is there a plan to address the issue?

  4. The Westport Library has been a home-away-from-home for me and my family since we moved here in 1999. We started with P.J. Story Hour when my daughter still favored her ladybug pajamas. The WestportREADS program unites the community – I’m so grateful my friend and neighbor Marta Campbell recruited me as a volunteer starting with the first one featuring Lois Lowry and The Giver. The Booked for the Evening programs have brought legendary people to our hometown. The globally-innovating Maker Space, and the forward-thinking Westport Maker Faire bring us to the cutting edge of the future. I am proud to support our Library, and so excited to see how the renovation turns out. Let’s meet there for a coffee, a lecture, and some tinkering!

  5. Sincere and happy congratulations to Westporters on your new library plans. Here in Monroe, “due to a lack of funding” our town’s centerpiece,the Edith Wheeler Memorial Library will now be closed indefinitely every Wednesday…

  6. Gorgeous. Thoughtful. Takes the community needs into account. Does not look like a “designed by a committee” mess, as is the fate of many public buildings. Kudos to all involved.

  7. Jocelyn Barandiaran

    As a member of the Library’s Board of Trustees, it is gratifying to read such supportive reactions to the Library’s plans.

    To address a couple of the questions raised above: Fred Cantor, you are right — the figure cited in the article for circulation of items from the audio/visual department does include circulation of audiobooks on CDs. As to the amount of space dedicated to books, the new design will convert the Riverwalk Level into over 10,000 square feet of usable space that will house the vast majority of the adult book stacks, and will also have more windows and additional seating areas for reading, quiet contemplation, research and studying. In addition, the Main Level will continue to feature rotating curated collections of program-related and other theme-related books, as well as new releases and popular books. Between the two levels, the Library’s collection will remain about the same size.

    As to the condition of the Library’s setting mentioned by Morley Boyd, we anticipate that the new grand entrance on the Jesup Green will help to activate the Green. The Riverwalk adjacent to the Library will receive a significant upgrade, and the Library cafe will also have a small outdoor seating area on the upper level. Landscaping of the immediately surrounding grounds will also be addressed. The Town’s Downtown Implementation Plan also includes action items that may address some issues.

  8. And will professional, out-of-town tutors still be able to commandeer whole tables for their private offices to loudly ply their trade at $150/hr without contributing? Allowing them to profit at others’ expense doesn’t seem right. Chris Woods

  9. Michael Calise

    When the first edition of this library was built I was on the architectural Review Board. The Architects at that time were a New York City firm that could not be convinced to design a building which embraced the Saugatuck River as its vocal point. A number of presentations were made by the firm and the Library Board all refusing to develop views and interaction with the river setting. Of course the political force of the then Library Board eventually gained approval to build and now it will be taking us through a second renovation to achieve what could have been built in the first place. This not about use which admittedly positions the Library for a commendable and exciting future but about a deficient building design to begin with.

  10. Dottie Fincher

    Why oh why would one ever leave Westport?

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