With renovations, Westport Library turns a new page

Westport News writes:

WESTPORT — After two years of construction, the Westport Public Library finally reopened its doors to a crowd of more than 100 people.

Library Executive Director Bill Harmer, who moved from Michigan to Westport four years ago, said he remembered sharing with his staff his vision for the library’s reopening, with a ribbon-cutting ceremony and a filled Jesup Green overlooking the Saugatuck River.

That vision came to fruition, when Westport residents flooded the deeply etched stairs at the back of the building, which had been closed in early June to finalize the two-year transformation. The ribbon cutting marked the end of a more than 10-year, $21 million project paid for by state, town and personal donor funds.

The construction caused the library staff to get creative, meeting in the offices of the Christ & Holy Trinity Episocopal Church, restaurants and even in their own homes.

After the ceremonial yellow ribbon fell to the floor, the horde of people entered the building, invited by a bookstore gift shop called “The Hub” to their right and a massive, 500-plus seating forum space to their left, capable of housing possible plays, conferences, keynotes and even fashion shows.

The esteemed guests of the day ranged from Gov. Ned Lamont, state Sen. Tony Hwang, Coney Island Circus Sideshow sword swallowing Adam RealMan, pianist Frederic Chiu, the Westport/Weston Family YMCA Dance Center and pop-up performances by Suzuki Music School students.

The meeting rooms also held interactive demonstrations like virtual reality and CPR lessons by Westport EMS.

The three-level building now features more meeting rooms, conference rooms, program rooms, a family lounge, an expanded cafe and outdoor deck, live audio and video recording studios, and an enhanced MakerSpace.

Jaina Shaw, a librarian there since 2006, said while people may be wowed at the audio and video studios, Shaw is most excited for the newly improved flexible working spaces.

She said places like a library can be a hangout for teens, but in Westport there are places like Toquet Hall. That’s why it became important to create an environment that allowed for collaborate working spaces.

Staff realized students had not just been coming to work on finals, she said, but also group projects and to study sessions. The lack of space to do so in places like Starbucks and Barnes & Noble created a big need, she said.

Those needs were reflected in the changes, like the teen corner which features booths and an academic lounge area.

Above all, Shaw said she is most excited to have enough space for students to work and just be.

“A library is the last public place in America where you can be all day without being expected to buy something,” Shaw said.

Westport Library reopens following 2 years of construction

News 12 Connecticut


Hundreds of people attended the ribbon-cutting ceremony Sunday before the official reopening of the Westport Library.

The library has been under construction for two years.

Since construction started in 2017, the library has been partially opened to the community but not fully operational.

"This is a tremendous event for Westport. The library is very much our university. It's our community center. It's a place where people gather all the time,” says First Selectman Jim Marpe.

The library now has a recording studio, editing systems, meeting rooms, a theater and much more. Architect Henry Myerberg says he designed the library to transfer the energy of space into the energy of people.

"You know, energy is people coming together,” he says. “And libraries of the 21st century are bringing together a collection of people, not just a collection of books." 

The library added several windows and elevated the floor to amplify a warm, welcoming feeling.

In honor of the reopening, the Westport Library had live performances, speakers, food and fun activities.

Westport Celebrates: Transformation Complete, Library Opens!

From Dan Woog’s 06880

If you want to know what kind of town Westport is, consider this:

On a Sunday morning — the most beautiful day of summer (so far) — 1,000 or so men, women and kids turned out to celebrate the re-opening of our library.

Plus this: The multi-year project came in on time.

And within budget.

A large crowd waited for the opening ceremony.

There were brief speeches by Governor Ned Lamont and 1st Selectman Jim Marpe.

Governor Ned Lamont — whose family endowed a library at Harvard University — talks about their importance.

A band played. Dozens of kids jumped in for the ribbon-cutting.

Kids celebrate, moments after 1st Selectman Jim Marpe cut the ribbon.

Then everyone clambered up the very new stairs, to the great new entrance. As Marpe noted, the library — originally a gift from Morris Jesup — now embraces Jesup Green, named for the founder’s family.

A brass band plays, as the crowd streams up the steps.

It’s a spectacular building we can all be proud of. It will evolve and be used in ways we have not yet even imagined.

Within minutes of the opening, the grandstand was packed.

Today was a great day for Westport. If you haven’t seen it yet: The festivities continue until 4 p.m.

To all who made today possible — especially our amazing library director Bill Harmer — thank you!

Music on the main stage, dance, podcasts, educational sessions, even composting and bees — it’s all on, all afternoon at the new library, until 4 pm. (All photos/Dan Woog)

It Takes A Vision: Bill Harmer, Library Executive Director spoke to Y's Men about the transformed Library

By Roy Fuchs, Patch Contributor | May 13, 2019

And a vision is just what the Westport Library's Executive Director Bill Harmer brought to his new assignment.

Mr. Harmer came to Westport four years ago, from Chelsea, Michigan, where he was Director of what The Library Journal had named the "Best Small Library in America."

He inherited a newly minted plan to renovate the then almost 30 year old Westport Library — a high tech, state-of-the-art facility on a larger footprint with a cost approximating $40 million, and complicated by non-trivial service interruptions.

Harmer gathered community input then gave the architectural firm that conceived that design, Henry Myerberg's HMA2, a new directive — more modest in some regards, bolder in others.

He sought to "help assure that libraries are at the forefront of a revolutionary movement in community education, experience and expression."

Achieving a more manageable cost was essential, as was flexibility. This Library is a community center, an anchor of our downtown, and so requires a major space for public cultural and entertainment programs, more meeting spaces, more space for housing growing collections of printed and digital media, a contemporary children's library, an enhanced Maker Space, updated technology throughout, and perhaps a larger café, more of a store, and expanded amenities.

All in the existing footprint, and with no service interruptions.

Harmer recently talked to Y's Men, emphasizing that he and his team are about to "deliver a state-of-the-art library, on time and in budget."

The budget was halved, to $19.5 million. The state provided a $1 million grant. Once the town added $5 million the Community Campaign for the Transformation Project was brought to life, and opened the door for private donations of $15 million.

Come to the June 23 Ribbon Cutting. You'll start your walk through by coming in through the new main entry on Jesup Green. Change is all around you. What was the Great Hall is now a larger and largely open space with a raised ceiling and floor to ceiling windows that bathe this vast room in sunlight.

Walk past the new service desk and into the Hub. There you'll see best sellers, new books, DVDs and curated collections showcased for those looking for what's new.

On your left is a unique eight feet high stepped structure containing book shelves whose carpeted steps meant for casual reading.

Walk away from the Hub, around the stepped structure, and your'e in the Christian J. Trefz Forum, built with a $1 million cornerstone donation by Christian and Eva Trefz.

The Trefz Forum may be the Library's most dramatic and flexible space, with over 6,000 sq ft of workspace. Then when the occasion arises it becomes an event space seating over 600 people — no more standing in the hall outside the outgrown and outdated McManus Room.

A stage at the far end features one of the largest video walls in the state, and theater quality sound and lighting systems for live streaming, broadcasting and filming of major events.

First up on the Forum stage, on June 4, will be BOOKED for the evening, honoring award-winning virtuoso pianist and Westporter Fredric Chiu.

Spotted around this main level are 16 meeting and conference rooms, some with state-of-the-art video and conferencing equipment — even one with a wet bar — and three large rooms for gatherings of 40 to 120 people. Gone are the difficulties of scheduling meetings.

There's also the Library of Things — the Maker Space and the Hacker Space, with hands on items including 3D printers, CNC machines, laser cutters, sewing machines. And board games, musical instruments, VR consoles, a fold up kayak and a mobile podcasting studio. All in a space available 24 hours a day.

One of the real gems are state-of-the-art audio and video studios, designed with the guidance of Grammy award winning sound engineer, and Westporter, Rob Fraboni. They provide audio production and audio and video post production for recording and producing podcasts or songs, and for completing videos, all with support to help you learn.

There's a new and larger café that opens at 8:00 am — before the Library. It offers outdoor seating, and opens into the Sheffer Room, making it an even more inviting reading room.

The café also has a public kitchen and a Baker Space, to do for foodies what the Maker Space does for techies.

Another jewel is the children's library. A substantial gift from Roz and Bud Siegel brought it to life. Go up the broad staircase, into the "best real estate in the building." There's a fully renovated program room — also with new windows and a higher ceiling. There's new furniture, and books and toys, all to encourage our youngest to start enjoying their Library.

Also on the second floor is a five feet wider hall, providing working space for up to 40 people, and doubling as a balcony for Forum events.

Much of the book collection now resides on the river level, though you'll see shelving on all three levels. Likewise digital. The digital book collection has grown ten fold in the last couple of years, there's a streaming music service, and digital magazines that enable visually impaired users to manipulate font sizes.

There are more ADA compliant spaces and amenities, and assisted listening devices. There is also the "best and most powerful WiFi in the community, and an abundance of power outlets."

The Ribbon Cutting will offer a cornucopia of events — music, dance, film, family activities, a live podcast by Miggs Burroughs and brother Trace, a writer's workshop, story time in children's library, art, filming live stories, and more.

You can view a photo exhibit tracking the project's progress shot and curated by renowned photographer Dick Frank. Get a preview at https://www.wltransformationproject.org.

One Y's Man was so taken by Harmer's presentation that he commented "You've put five pounds of potatoes in a three pound bag, and have room left over."

Photos by Ted Horowitz

Westport Library Announces Opening Date

Westport, CT – The Westport Library is excited to announce the opening of the newly transformed Library on Sunday, June 23.

Central to the Library’s new design is the Forum, a highly functional community space that can accommodate events for up to 600 people. The Forum is supported by a high performance video wall, which can be used for showing films and enhancing presentations. There will be theater-quality sound, staging & lighting, and state of the art broadcast studios for live streaming, broadcasting, and filming of the Library’s signature events.

When the Forum is not being used for programming, it can be repurposed to provide over 6,000 square feet of flexible space on the Main Level. This space will be used to support co-working and collaboration. Community members, students, and small business owners will find plenty of workspace to do research, work, study, read, and learn.

Extending off the Forum are three large program rooms, capable of hosting 40 to 120 people, enabling the Library to host multiple programs simultaneously. An enhanced MakerSpace will offer the latest technologies for learning, exploring and sharing. Patrons will have access to seven meeting rooms, eight conference rooms and a video recording studio. Makers will also now have the opportunity to apply for 24/7 access to MakerSpace areas.

The new Children’s Library will be more functional, flexible and fun with new book stacks, new books, new furniture, new toys, an improved program room, and visible activity areas that enjoy views of the river and Jesup Green. The new space creates more opportunities for young people to dig into a book, socialize, study, collaborate on group projects, or attend a class or program.

The Library’s Café will be six times larger, providing an enhanced food and drink menu, and will include an outdoor deck offering scenic views of the Saugatuck River. The expanded retail space will include the Library Store. Floor to ceiling windows throughout the Library connect the building to its natural surroundings.

The Riverwalk Level, will be home to the main book collection and quiet reading spaces. Additional book and media collections will be dispersed among all three levels of the Transformed Library.

The Library’s main entrance will now be accessible from downtown Westport and Jesup Green by a sweeping grand staircase. Access will also be available from the upper parking lot.

More information on opening weekend events to come. Follow the Library on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter for continued updates or subscribe to the e-newsletter at westportlibrary.org.

Library Transformation Nearly Complete

Dan Woog on 06880 reports: (Click on this link to see full article with photographs, including the one above, by Lynn Untermeyer Miller.
“June 23: Book it!

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)

Project Updates

The Westport Library Announces Naming of Children’s Library as “Roz and Bud Siegel Family Children’s Library”

Naming in Recognition of Family’s Generous Gift to the Library’s Transformation Project

The Westport Library is pleased to announce that the fully renovated Children’s Library will be named the Roz and Bud Siegel Family Children’s Library in honor of the Siegel’s generous gift toward the Library’s Transformation Project.

“The extraordinary generosity demonstrated by Roz and Bud’s leadership gift is a testament to their long-standing commitment to the Library, and vision for the future of Westport.  We are deeply grateful for their support,” said Executive Director of the Westport Library Bill Harmer. “Their gift will allow us to build a completely reimagined children’s space -  flexible and fun – filled with new books, toys, and furniture that will provide our youngest patrons with a space ideally suited to reading, studying, learning, playing and growing.”

When complete in 2019, the Roz and Bud Siegel Family Children’s Library will boast many improvements including: an enhanced program room, visible activity areas that enjoy views of the Saugatuck River and the Jesup Green, a raised ceiling, improved acoustics, new lighting systems, and enhancements of some of the windows- making them floor-to-ceiling – to provide even greater views of the Library’s beautiful natural surroundings.

“We are pleased that the Transformation Project has reached a place where our donation can provide a foundation for the Children’s Library for many years to come, as children become young adults and, eventually, adults with their own children,” said Bud Siegel. “In so many ways, the Children’s Library builds a solid foundation for the future. We view our support of the project as an investment in the present that will pay dividends for years to come.”  

For Roz, an avid reader and lifelong library user, investing in the Transformation Project called to mind her growing up and visiting her hometown library in Massachusetts.

“I have such fond memories of visiting my hometown library and bringing my children and grandchildren here to the Westport Library,” said Roz Siegel. “The Westport Library is so much more than a library; it is a community center where kids feel welcome and supported and can develop healthy habits around reading and learning in a warm, friendly environment. We are so excited to see how the community will take advantage of the new space!”

Construction began on the $20.8 million-dollar Transformation Project in September 2017 when work commenced on the Riverwalk Level. The Interim Library/Riverwalk Level officially opened to the public at a special ceremony in June of 2018. Work is now underway on the Main and Upper Levels and is expected to be complete in approximately 12 months.

During this current phase of construction, the Great Hall will be transformed into the Forum – a large, flexible open space on the main floor that can be used for daily meeting and study and can be reconfigured to accommodate up to 650 people for large events. The renovated Main Level will also feature more study space, highly visible customer service points, an exceptional collection of digital and physical materials (including audio/visual materials, new releases, curated collections of popular materials), the Library’s store, an expanded Café- including outdoor seating - plus a new recording studio and expanded MakerSpace as well as the completely renovated Children’s Library on the Upper Level.
The Transformation Project is made possible by a robust show of support through public and private funding. Public dollars from the Town of Westport were allocated in 2017, when the Town’s RTM unanimously approved the disbursement of $5 million for the initiative. The town’s funding will cover the cost to replace the dated and inefficient mechanical systems - the HVAC, plumbing and elevator - which are original to the 1986 facility. The Library also applied for and received a $1 million construction grant from the Connecticut State Library. The bulk of the funding for the project has come from private donors.  

For more on the specific elements of the project and how to be involved, and how to donate visit wltransformationproject.org. To learn more about Library programs and services available during this Interim Phase, visit westportlibrary.org.

Opening of New Riverwalk Level Announced for Monday, June 4

Interim Library Scheduled to Open to Public Monday, June 4

Westport, CT – The Westport Library is thrilled to announce the opening of the new Riverwalk Level and Interim Library scheduled for Monday, June 4. The completion of this first phase of construction on the long-awaited Library Transformation Project will culminate in a special opening reception Monday, June 4 at the Library.

“After nearly a decade in the making, we could not be prouder to finally bring the dream of a new Westport Library to life for the community,” said Westport Library Executive Director Bill Harmer. “This Interim Library space will give us all an exciting preview of what’s to come when the entire building is completed in 2019, including stunning panoramic views of the Saugatuck River, the latest technology, a new program room, various quiet spaces, materials representing all elements of the Library’s collection, a MakerSpace and so much more!”   

During this next Phase II of the Transformation Project, the Library collection, which will be temporarily limited due to the reduction in footprint in the Interim space, will be available exclusively out of the Riverwalk Level while construction begins on the Main and Upper Levels. During Phase II, which is expected to last approximately 10 months, the Library will provide the same services currently available on-site including reference, circulation, account support and interlibrary loans. Westport Library cardholders will also continue to have access to the Library’s comprehensive suite of digital materials including electronic books, music, magazines and research databases.  

The Library will provide the same exceptional programming for the community, offering programs during the Interim phase on-site and at satellite locations throughout the community including: the YMCA, the Suzuki Music School, Christ and Holy Trinity Church, Saugatuck Congregational Church, the Westport Woman’s Club, The Conservative Synagogue, Beit Chaverim, Earthplace, the Westport Police Department, the Westport Historical Society, Westport Center for Senior Activities, Town Hall and other locations. In addition, staff will be available in the community at various venues offering select Library services on a fixed schedule.

To complete the move to the Interim space, starting Monday, May 14 the teen and adult book collections will be removed from the shelves, so that those shelves can be moved to the Riverwalk level where they will be reassembled.  Once this process begins, the adult book collection will be temporarily unavailable while it is being installed in the Interim Library. The audio/visual collection, the Children’s collection, new releases and display items will continue to be available.

From Wednesday, May 23 through Sunday, June 3, the Library will be closed to efficiently and safely transfer and shelve materials, disconnect and reconnect technology, and move and install other items in the new space. The Library’s digital collection will continue to be available; however, no other Library services or materials will be available until June 4. No fines will be levied during this period.

“As soon as we open the Interim Library, work will begin on the Main and Upper Levels,” said Harmer. “During this phase, the Great Hall will be transformed into the Forum – a large, flexible open space on the main floor that can be used for daily meeting and study and reconfigured to accommodate up to 650 people for large events. The Main Level will also feature more study space, highly visible customer service points, an exceptional collection of digital and physical materials (including audio/visual materials, new releases, curated collections of popular materials), the Library’s store, an expanded Café, including outdoor seating, plus a new recording studio and expanded MakerSpace.”  

Work will also begin on renovations to the Children’s Library during Phase II. This will include creating spaces that are more functional, flexible and fun, with visible activity areas that enjoy views of the River and Jesup Green. The renovation will create more opportunities for young people to dig into books, socialize, study, collaborate on group projects or attend classes or programs. New mechanical systems, including modernized restrooms, a new elevator and a more energy efficient HVAC system will also be installed.

To date, with the help of the Town of Westport, the State of Connecticut and the generosity of the Library’s friends and supporters, the Library has raised 88% of the funds required to complete the project. For more information about how to contribute and to learn about schedules and events, please visit the Library website as well as the Transformation Project website.

Please note: given the complexity of the project, these dates are subject to change. The Library encourages patrons to check the website and other library communications often for the latest updates.

Library Breaks Ground on Major Renovation

WESTPORT — When five-year-old Julian Hinojos got to the Westport Library’s Groundbreaking Ceremony to kick off its Transformation Project, he wasn’t interested in the yellow hard hats, shovels or buckets of dirt to symbolize the project’s start. In fact at the event, Julian kept asking his mother, Hilary Nordholm, if they could go to the kid’s room to pick out a book.


Letter: Library thankful for community support

To the Editor:

On Tuesday Jan. 10, the Westport Representative Town Meeting unanimously approved an allocation of $5 million in town funding to be used toward the Westport Library Transformation Project. I am writing today on behalf of the Westport Library Board of Directors, staff, volunteers and countless supporters to extend our heartfelt gratitude to the entire Westport community for its continued, strident support of our organization and the exciting transformation ahead.