June 23: Book it!
That’s the Sunday — just 3 1/2 months from now — when the Westport Library unveils its finished Transformation Project.
It’s on time. On budget. And on track to revolutionize not only the library itself, but Jesup Green, Taylor Place, and probably the rest of downtown.
The other day — as workers pounded nails, laid tiles and ran wires — library director Bill Harmer took “06880” photographer Lynn Untermeyer Miller and me on a tour.
A few months ago, we previewed the lower level. Yet with all due respect to the stacks and reading nooks, the upper level is where all the action will be.
The “Great Hall” gets a lot greater. Gone is the “battleship” circulation desk, clunky kiosks and scores of stacks.
Now, Harmer says, the library has “liberated” nearly 11,000 square feet of space.
The main floor becomes a grand space for working, collaborating, watching concerts and performances, and hanging out. It can be reconfigured for an art show, fashion runway — if you imagine it, the library staff will do it.
“You can even have a wedding here,” Harmer says. I don’t think he’s joking.
The centerpiece of the “Forum” — its new name — is a tiered grandstand. It faces 2 directions — one of which is a new performing (and extendable) stage. Behind it is a giant video wall that Harmer calls “unlike anything anywhere in the state.” Theater-quality lighting hangs above.
The entryway — now accessible from Jesup Green, as well as the Levitt Pavilion parking lot — will include a “Hub.” That’s where you’ll find popular, new material, and a very user-friendly service desk.
That new entrance is huge. With a heated landing and steps, and a sidewalk linking it to the police station parking lot, it overlooks a natural amphitheater by Jesup Green.
Harmer envisions programs taking place on the landing, and the green.
Suddenly, that part of downtown seems part of the library. We’ll be encouraged to walk more; to linger on the green; to see the library as part of — rather than apart from — downtown.
The connection continues inside. Dozens of windows have been added on the northern side. Natural light will flood in.
There are many new rooms. Each serves more than one purpose. A hangout for teenagers in the afternoon becomes a lecture room at night, for example. A production facility turns into a green room for featured performers.
The new MakerSpace has 24/7 access from outside. Creativity strikes at any time, so users can come and go even when the rest of the library is closed.
The Library Cafe has been expanded enormously. A view of the bathroom has been replaced by one of the river. There’s outdoor seating — and a “BakerSpace” for demonstrations and nutrition talks. (Yes, that’s a play on “MakerSpace.”)
Upstairs, the hallway has been widened by 5 feet. That makes a huge difference. Seven large conference rooms will be open to the public (along with 2 on the riverwalk level).
But the star of the top floor is the children’s library. Though the same size as before, but it feels much larger.
The ceiling has been raised, revealing a large skylight that no one knew was there.
Kids can peer through portholes at the Great Hall below — or they and their parents can enjoy wonderful river views on the opposite side. Mobile stacks will make this one of the most exciting parts of the entire building.
The Transformation Project is truly a 21st-century design. Power outlets are everywhere. That’s one thing no library can have too much of.
Architects also thought to raise the floor. Finally, you’re high enough to actually see out of the windows.
Seeing, as we all know, is believing. Mark your calendars for June 23. You’ll see a library you could never have imagined.
Its transformation will be wondrous. And complete.
(For more information on the Westport Library’s Transformation Project, click here.)