Library Transformation Nearly Complete

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 grandstand, looking toward Jesup Green…

… and the view from the top of the grandstand, toward the stage (rear).

A close-up of the grandstand. Mechanicals fit underneath; the exterior will be used for periodicals.

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.

Library director Bill Harmer outside the new entrance. Jesup Green and Taylor Place are close by.

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.

A path now leads from Taylor Place to the police station parking lot. A new library entrance is along the path.

The connection continues inside. Dozens of windows have been added on the northern side. Natural light will flood in.

Plenty of windows let in lots of light.

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).

There’s more room to walk on the 2nd floor.

But the star of the top floor is the children’s library. Though the same size as before, but it feels much larger.

The renovated children’s library.

The ceiling has been raised, revealing a large skylight that no one knew was there.

A peek through the porthole, at the newly discovered skylight.

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.

Library director Bill Harmer, in front of one of the new portholes. Children will gaze out, at all the action below.

The view from the children’s library is not too shabby.

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.)

Even the light fixtures are dramatic. (All photos and video/Lynn Untermeyer Miller)

11 responses to “Library Transformation Nearly Complete

  1. Wow, thanks Dan! Brilliant design and execution that exceeds expectations — on budget and on time. Can we get the same team on CMS? 🙂

  2. Robert Harrington

    This is fantastic and a great success story. So good for brand Westport….

    Well done to all those involved.

    Can the Town of Westport now come together and fix / modernize CMS and make this a structure we can be proud of for decades.

    This should inspire all of us to make CMS a school of the future. Major overhaul by Aug 2020 – and the. let the modernization continue after that date to deliver Westport a school it can be proud of.

  3. Lucy C. Weberling

    Where exactly is the new library? I graduated from Staples in 1961- now live in Oklahoma. Thanks. I’ll be visiting in July. Lucy weberling

    • Hi Lucy,

      Since 1986, the library has been on what used to be the town dump, just south of the Taylor Place parking lot. It’s on the river, adjacent to what for the past 40+ years has been the Levitt Pavilion. See you there in July!

  4. Looks great but I just had one question – will there be more room for books than they currently have in the temporary(?) location on the first level? It currently seems very cramped down there now.

    • Good point. While I can’t wait to see the final renovation, just how many book stacks will be in the upstairs sections? Or, more importantly, how many books were in the library pre-transformation and how many books will be available in the new library? In other words, will there be any downsizing of the book collection due to the accommodation of new uses? Thanks.

      • Also — will the A/V section be as large as before? The DVDs are wonderful and we borrow them quite often. (And, yes, I can use my Fairfield Library card.)

  5. I would like to allay any concerns about the size of the collection in the Library’s Transformed space. Prior to the start of construction, the Library had a total of 117,897 physical books and upon completion of construction, the size of the collection will remain within a few percent of pre-construction numbers. Having said that, please bear in mind that the size and composition of the Library collection varies almost daily as new items are added and older non-circulating items are repurposed.

    We have used this period during the renovation project to assess our materials and to make sure that when we open our doors in the new library we will have a refreshed and up to date collection. In addition, we have continued to grow our digital offerings during this interim period.

    Our commitment to books is clearly evident in that in the Transformed Library we have an entire level dedicated to books. This beautiful Riverwalk level will be a quiet contemplative space with beautiful views of the River. In addition to this, the upper level Hub will be filled with the popular material collection including the latest items on the best seller list, new releases as well as DVDs and other materials.

    We are looking forward to showing the community the Library’s many new offerings.

    Melanie Myers,
    Director, Organization and Management
    The Westport Library

  6. This is exciting! My office window is across the river and i have watched the outside progress from my vantage point. The inside space looks beautiful. Well done Westport!

  7. Robert Mitchell

    Love the emphasis on Jesup Green, that such-underutilized space. The summer that the Levitt Pavilion used Jesup Green was one of the most fun one in recent years.