ReOpen Westport team examines reopening plan for Westport Library

There were books and more at the Holiday Book Sale at The Westport Library on Nov. 24, 2019, in Westport.

There were books and more at the Holiday Book Sale at The Westport Library on Nov. 24, 2019, in Westport.

Jarret Liotta / For Hearst Connecticut Media / Jarret Liotta

WESTPORT — The ReOpen Westport Advisory Team reviewed a phased-in approach to reopening the Westport Library at its meeting Thursday now that the libray has begun its phase one reopening — offering curb-side pickup only.

“In terms of reopening the building again, we’ve been working very closely with the town on our plans,” Westport Library Executive Director Bill Harmer said.

As of Wednesday, he said, only 15 percent of libraries in the state have opened their buildings to the public with none open in Fairfield County.

“It’s not the same as opening a business or restaurant,” Harmer said. “Aside from the schools, no other public building gets the kind of foot traffic that public libraries do and that’s especially true here in Westport, where nearly 1,500 people were coming through our door prior to the shutdown.”

Health and safety will be priorities for each of the library’s five phases, which range from curbside pick-up services in phase one, which began June 15, to a full-service return to the new normal in phase five.

“The plan also considers potential for reversion to earlier phases if significant new outbreaks of COVID-19 occur across the state,” Harmer said. “We’re prepared to go backwards if we need to.”

A thorough cleaning and inspection of the library was done to prepare the building for reopening, he said. Workplace modifications have also been done including guidelines to control traffic.

In phase two, the library will be open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays through Fridays. Occupants will be limited to only 100 people including staff at any given time and masks will be required to enter.

“This will be done to reinforce social distancing,” Harmer said. “We’re going to start slow and steady here.”

Harmer said this phase will start on July 13. It may vary how long it will take before the library proceeds to the next phase.

In phase three, patrons will be allowed to be in the library for an extended period of time. The cafe will also be opened with a scaled-down menu and some smaller library programs may be provided. In this phase, the library will be open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays and from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays.

“The plan is to provide expanded on-site services with certain restrictions in place,” Harmer said.

The majority of library services will be reintroduced in phase four, but larger group gatherings will still be restricted. Harmer said the library will also return to regular operation hours in this phase.

“Phase five will see a full service return to our “new normal” whatever that happens to be,” Harmer said. “At this point, we think the infection rate is considered low or non-existent and there’s a vaccine that’s finally available.”

ReOpen Westport Advisory Team Chair Jen Tooker highlighted the importance of the library’s reopening. She said the library will be the first opening of a large public space in Westport.

“Our schools aren’t open. Our town hall is not open. Our senior center is not open,” Tooker said. “When we talk about reopening Westport, the impact of opening the doors again at the library — even though we’re talking about a five-phased approach — is quite a big deal for this community.”

First Selectman Jim Marpe praised Harmer and his staff for developing the plan.

“We couldn’t ask for a more thorough and thoughtful plan,” he said.