Update, 4:09 p.m.: Norwalk Information Technology (IT) Director Karen DelVecchio refutes Jackie Lightfield comment.
NORWALK, Conn. – It’s not that the Norwalk Public Library should move to the proposed mall should the mall get built, Jackie Lightfield said. It’s that a third, more glorious, technologically savvy library space could open in that part of the city, in the strategically placed high-end shopping center.
Lightfield has a survey out there looking for support for this idea, which is possible under the new Land Disposition Agreement parameters recently approved by the Common Council.
“The existing library buildings don’t go away, but the entire library system could be rethought. You don’t need to offer the same services in each building,” Lightfield said in a Facebook post. “… Obviously a public discussion needs to happen about that, however the trend according to the American Library Association is to rethink libraries as community incubator spaces, whatever that means. To me that means that it would be nice to have a facility that overlooks the Long Island Sound that can function as classroom, auditorium or gathering space for individual or large group size. A conversation about a new library shouldn’t be limited to just whether it is at the mall or not, however the deal to have one there is a real possibility.”
The new LDA mandates that any development built on the 95/7 site at the intersection of West Avenue and Interstate 95 contain 5 percent “public realm” uses. Among the options would be library space – also a square, a plaza, a police substation or a performance area.
Lightfield said she was inspired by comments made by Attorney Frank Zullo, First Taxing District Commission chairman and former mayor, at the last Council meeting.
“My paranoia index is up a little,” Zullo said, explaining that it had been suggested at a recent First Taxing District meeting that Norwalk’s main library should move from Belden Avenue to the hoped-for mall.
Zullo said there was a study done many years ago – back when he was mayor – that indicated that the Belden Avenue spot was the perfect location for the main library.
“It doesn’t make logical sense that when we are trying to so hard to bring life back to the Main and Wall area that we are even thinking of moving one of the First District’s major attractions,” Zullo said. “… We went to the First Taxing District years ago and asked them to sell that land to the city so we could start a central library. They sold it to the city with the understanding that it would be a central library forever and a day. It wasn’t written in concrete, but that was the understanding.”
“I think he took it a little bit out of context,” Planning Committee Chairman Doug Hempstead (R-At Large) said of the mall idea. “It was just one of the laundry list of things that we put into there. There was somebody who came and spoke one Saturday about it; I guess there was a meeting, but there was nothing, there’s no stone here.”
Robert Gibbs, a consultant hired by the Norwalk Redevelopment Agency, suggested during a Joint Committee meeting that library space could qualify as a public realm usage.
“Nobody is talking about closing the library, moving the library at this stage of the game,” Hempstead said. “It was included as an idea, because somebody suggested it be in here.”
General Growth Properties Senior Developer Doug Adams said his company is not looking to move either the main library or the South Norwalk branch into the mall.
Under the new LDA language, the mall would include 57,200 square feet of public realm space. GGP’s plan calls for plazas along the West Avenue frontage for the property, which would be public realm space.
Norwalk Public Library Director Chris Bradley said the main library is 47,000 square feet. The South Norwalk library is 11,000 square feet.
“I agree that the main library needs renovation; we have a capital project for a main library building plan so that we can proceed responsibly and in the best interests of our patrons. The South Norwalk branch is beautiful and was just renovated seven years ago,” Bradley said in an email.
Turns out that Lightfield set Zullo’s “paranoia” in motion.
“I presented the conceptual idea at the last library board meeting, and they were very interested,” Lightfield said in a press release. “In fact they decided that they’d form an exploratory committee to investigate what this opportunity means.”
“The sense of the meeting was that the Board of Commissioners had real concerns about the concept,” Zullo said at the Council meeting.
“Frank Zullo is very much against the idea of Norwalk ever getting a new, modern library,” Lightfield said in her press release. “He challenged me to show that there’s support for a new library, and even ventured that the First Taxing District should be in charge of holding a referendum on the idea. I accepted the challenge, but think the question belongs to the entire city of Norwalk.”
GGP has explored what a library building requirement conceptually could be, Lightfield asserts. “They determined that a 30,000-square-foot floor atop the proposed mall could be built for an additional $9 million dollars. The concept for the dedicated library floor opened on a large terrace overlooking the Long Island Sound, doors accessible from the mall and from the exterior, and a large, flexible, natural light-filled space that could accommodate the modern needs of today’s Norwalk residents,” she wrote in her Norwalk 2.0 press release.
The press release continues:
Today libraries are reinventing themselves as 21st century information centers. The types of information services that Norwalk needs are changing rapidly. Workshops and studio space to allow for 3-D printing classes, health and fitness workshops, job skill programs, lectures, exhibits and many other services place demands that go well beyond the storage and circulation of books, digital media and periodical materials which Norwalk’s two library buildings struggle to accommodate.
The City of Westport is undertaking an expansion to 67,800 square feet, the third expansion in 20 years, to the tune of $40 million and including a 300-person flexible auditorium. The recently completed new 54,000-square-foot library building in Darien cost $27 million and is light filled and fully automated.
The Darien Library has 21 wireless access points, a “power library” in the basement full of public access computer and a room dedicated to all office needs. The “Teen Room” offers computers and technology for the younger generation. There is also a self check out that is computerized. The Hennen’s American Public Library Rating system ranked Darien Library as one of the top 10 libraries in the country for its size. The library is one of the busiest in the state of Connecticut with an average day of 1,300 people walking through its doors.
“When the City of Norwalk deeded over both libraries to the First and Second Taxing Districts in 1913 as part of the consolidation and creation of the City of Norwalk, I think it was to placate the local political interests of the towns of South Norwalk and Norwalk,” Lightfield said in the release. “Maybe they thought that there was a concern that those towns didn’t want to lose services to some ‘new fangled’ city or something,” said Lightfield. “But the First Taxing District gave the building and operating costs back to the City of Norwalk in 1970, so I think they must have changed their minds about a building and location that they never purchased or created… It is a shame that Norwalk doesn’t have the capacity to offer much more than old computers running XP.”
“There are NO ‘old computers running XP at either the main library or South Norwalk branch in service to either the public or the staff,” Information Technology (IT) Director Karen DelVecchio wrote in a Thursday email. “74% of the 167 public and staff PCs, laptops and tablets at the libraries have been purchased or replaced since 2012 with Windows 7, 8 and the latest version of IOS. You can verify this yourself by examining the Library capital technology budget funding requests and approvals for the fiscal years 2012-2015 and the technology funding requested in the coming fiscal year.”
The Main Library could be renovated to show off the beauty of its Carnegie Tudor building by making the spaces that are currently used for storage and administrative offices open to the public, the release states. “Once renovated, the Belden Library building could be reconfigured to allow for exhibit space and collaborative workspace, and continue library services that are specialized in arts and history, fulfilling cultural programming to the Norwalk community,” the release states. “A section for exhibit space for the Norwalk Museum collection, which it currently keeps archived in a basement room was also suggested.”
“A modern library system that offers the best in class services at each location is good for South Norwalk, good for Wall Street and good for time-stressed families who might want to utilize library services at a convenient retail location with plenty of parking, overlooking the Long Island Sound,” said Lightfield in the release. “I hope that Norwalk weighs in, for or against the idea. That way we know if we should keep working on the idea or go in a different direction.”