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RTM Approves $5 Million for Library Redo
By James Lomuscio
The Representative Town Meeting (RTM) tonight unanimously approved a $5 million request from the Westport Library to help transform it into a state-of-the art information and community center. An architect’s rendering of how the proposed Westport Library’s Great Hall will look in a forum set up. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Contributed photo
The town appropriation puts the Library three-quarters of the way toward its planned $19.5 million project scheduled to begin Aug.1.
Russel Baris, who serves on the library’s board of trustees, said fundraising efforts have already netted a $1 million state grant and more than $9 million in private contributions, with $4.3 million still to be raised.
Baris stressed that the town’s contribution boosts final fundraising efforts.
“Many say they will only contribute if the town shows a commitment,” he said.
Iain Bruce, also a trustee, said the $5 million requested is the same amount it would cost “funding the things we have to do already,” such as upgrading or replacing 30-year old mechanicals.
Library Director Bill Harmer, in his nearly hourlong presentation to the legislative body, spoke about the need to replace the building’s 30-year-old HVAC system, aged plumbing, “and elevators have passed their shelf-life, too.”
Harmer also reiterated what he told the Board of Finance Nov. 1 when it approved the request: “We’re going to turn the library upside down.”
“We can do so much more by unlocking the potential of the current footprint,” he said.
He explained that the current stacks would be moved to the ground floor while the main hall would be used for community events and a convention style auditorium.
“We’re flipping the stacks to the lower hall and the people to the great hall,” Harmer said.
The revamp would include: a main entrance with iconic steps on Jesup Green; a lower level “centralized space for books and quiet contemplation” that that incorporates the Riverwalk and maximizes water views with larger windows; and a main floor, multipurpose gathering space to accommodate 400 persons for lectures, community demonstrations, the current Maker Space, even recording studios.
According to Tom Walsh of AP Construction, the renovation should take about 17 months. He also said the work would be orchestrated in phases to keep the library open during construction. The Riverwalk renovation will be the first phase, and during that time the main level will be open.
“At no time will we have to shut down the library,” he said.
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