Finance board gives $5M for Westport Library renovation
WESTPORT — The Westport Public Library is one step closer to breaking ground on a $19.5 million renovation project set to start in August.
In a unanimous vote Tuesday night, the Board of Finance approved an appropriation of $5 million from the town to help fund the library overhaul. The library has already accumulated $9.7 million toward the goal, but even with the $5 million from the town, the library is still $4.8 million short of the mark.
“We’re going to turn the library upside down,” William Harmer, executive director of the Westport Public Library, said.
The renovation seeks to move the book stacks to the Riverwalk space on the lower level and move the assembly spaces to the main floor of the library, where circulation is. The project plans to make better use of the Riverwalk space by adding more windows and creating more areas for quiet study.
Although supportive of the initiative, the board questioned what would happen if the library did not raise the additional $4.8 million needed to fund the project.
“If you’re unable to raise that money and you have shovels in the ground and you’ve already appropriated the money, how do you guarantee that we’re not going to be on the hook for a good portion of that $4.8 (million)?” board member Lee Caney asked.
Iain Bruce, a library board member, said he was confident the library would be able to raise the funds.
Bruce and Board of Finance Chairman Brian Stern worked to change the language in the appropriation to make the $5 million funding “contingent upon sufficient financing to complete the project prior to the commencement of the construction.”
“I am in support of appropriating $5 million tonight, but I’m definitely not in support of appropriating a dollar more,” board member Jennifer Tooker said. She went on to say she was “thrilled to support” the project.
Stern lauded the endeavor and said he considers the library and its enhancement a “central point in the brand of Westport.”
The construction is slated to last 21 months — well into 2019. The library will remain open amid construction.