Y’s Men were treated to a “Westport on The Move” doubleheader last Thursday. First Selectman Jim Marpe introduced Melissa Kane, who summarized the Downtown Implementation Plan, then Library Executive Director Bill Harmer, who showed off the plan for the proposed Library renovations.
Ms. Kane identified the Downtown Plan’s objectives as including “reflecting and celebrating” Westport’s uniqueness, maintaining its “small town” character, and making the downtown more accessible and usable.
The Plan encompasses 53 projects in four categories — Places: Streetscapes & Public Spaces; Mobility: Traffic & Circulation; Parking: Capacity & Management; and Water: Stormwater & Flood Protection.
Thirty one are Short Term, and are scheduled for completion by late next year. Sixteen Mid Term projects will follow, with completion scheduled by year end 2020. The final six are Long Term and will follow, with completion projected for the middle of the next decade.
These projects will substantially enhance the appearance and functioning of downtown, among them: the sidewalk network will be expanded, Post Road crossings will be made safer, and five bicycle racks will be placed downtown; more attractive and useful signage will be installed to help Westporters and visitors alike navigate the town; a Westport Arts & Culture Heritage “Trail” will be created; the Baldwin and Avery lots will be merged to improve the supply and accessibility of parking; stormwater management will be improved; Toquet Hall will be enhanced, Parker Harding upgraded and Jesup Green reinvented. And the Library will be transformed.
Harmer introduced what has to be the capstone of the Downtown Plan, a “$19.5 million repurposing of this 30 year old building,” one that “flips it upside down,” that keeps the same footprint but completely redoes the inside.
The keyword is “flexibility,” with many walls being torn down, more usable open spaces created, and many group collaboration spaces added, all to make the new Library “a center of life long learning… (a part of which will provide a platform for) revitalizing work force skills.”
The downstairs will be substantially opened up to become home to the adult stacks. The main floor, the Forum, will have a stage at one end, a multi-tiered grandstand a bit beyond today’s Maker Space, and an open space between them capable of seating over 400. Behind the grandstand will be a new 130 seat McManus room.
There will be a new Maker Space and a Hacker Space, along with a larger cafe with a kitchen, a “Baker Space” Harmer called it. And many configurable collaboration/meeting spaces will be added around the room’s open space.
On the upper level, the children’s space will be unchanged, the administrative offices will be converted into additional user spaces, and the walkway on the top level will be built out a few feet to provide seating overlooking the Forum.
The plan will be brought to P&Z in October, and to the Board of Finance in November, seeking town funding of $5 million. Gifts and donations will provide the other $14.5 million.
Groundbreaking is scheduled for next August, with completion targeted for the second quarter of 2019. Construction is scheduled so the Library will be open throughout — on limited basis — functioning “like an urban library branch.”
With its transformation complete, what once was a state-of-the-art library will again be one.
Photo by Roy Fuchs