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Norwalk ‘moonshot’ would expand library, add public media center

Norwalk Public Library Board of Trustees Chairman Alex Knopp explains a rendering of a potential library option, Monday in the Norwalk Public Library. To learn more, watch a video by Harold Cobin, below.

Updated, 10:02 a.m.: Copy edits

NORWALK, Conn. – Plans to expand the Norwalk Public Library are moving forward with an effort likened by former Mayor Alex Knopp to a “moonshot.”

Connecticut Public, the parent company of Connecticut Public Television (CPTV) and Connecticut Public Radio (WNPR), is partnering with the City to create a joint Library and Media Center at NPL’s Belden Avenue facility.

“While the planning process is just beginning, we are envisioning a highly engaging media center, located within the expanded Norwalk Public Library, which would include a broadcast studio, offices for reporters and producers, and a digital classroom space to host Norwalk High School students, adult learners, and veterans,” Connecticut Public said in a statement.

The partnership will soon provide a temporary home for the CP-TV studio that Norwalk High School needs for its Digital Media and Communications Academy, without any new construction.

Video by Harold Cobin at end of story

 

Audience members react Monday to comments made during a press conference announcing a partnership betwen the Norwalk Public Library and Connecticut Public

Norwalk officials joined Connecticut Public leaders Monday for a press conference, to unveil the partnership.

“I envision the creation of a joint Library and Media Center on Belden Avenue as Norwalk’s moonshot,”  Knopp, who is Norwalk Public Library Board of Trustees Chairman, said. “This once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to partner with Connecticut’s outstanding public media organization would accomplish a giant step for the Norwalk Public Library and a giant leap forward for Wall Street in particular and for the entire City of Norwalk as well.”

“When this opens, this will be the game changer for downtown Norwalk,” State Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff (D-25) said.  In July Connecticut Public received a $1.5 million state grant to create a Wall Street-area Innovation and Tech Education Center.

“This joint facility would be only the second instance of a public media station hosted within a public library in the United States,” Knopp said. “The first opened at the Boston Public Library, where WBGH works from a studio space opened in 2016.”

The opportunity arose unexpectedly four months ago, Knopp and Mayor Harry Rilling said.

Plans for the media center dovetail with City’s purchase of a six-year option to buy 11 Belden Avenue for the library’s possible expansion.  The six-year option, purchased for $460,000 from real estate broker Jason Milligan, allowed the library to expand its parking lot.  Then the Mayor’s Office guided discussions between the late former Mayor Frank Zullo, then-First Taxing District Commission Chairman, and the library, Knopp said.

In 2017, Rilling mentioned the possibility of working with the First Taxing District.  “We can work with the First Taxing District and look at their property where make this a compound of sorts, where we can modernize, maybe bring in other developers to work with us, put in mixed use, have a coffee shop, a Starbucks or something like that, and still have plenty of parking to serve the people that come to the library for years to come,” Rilling said at the time.

“Originally this was proposed as a five-year expansion project for the library,” Knopp said. “Connecticut Public was looking to purchase other space on Wall Street. The commercial tenants in the First District building have five-year leases. We had a five-year option to purchase the property next door. Then all of a sudden, a perfect storm arose. Usually, one uses the term perfect storm about a danger, here it was a perfect storm of positive new developments.”

He continued, “We learned last summer that Connecticut Public had resumed the search for a new Norwalk location. We heard that the commercial tenants at 3 Belden apparently sought to terminate their five-year leases. So, quickly, we met with CPTV President Jerry Franklin on October 11 to open our discussions. Mayor Rilling acted quickly to engage discussions with the district about future tenancy of the building next door and public library and Connecticut Public executives even took a trip to Boston two weeks ago to examine how WGBH operates within the Boston Public Library.”

Redevelopment Agency Executive Director Tim Sheehan said the Agency has been working with the First Taxing District to develop a short-term lease for its 3 Belden Ave. building “with the understanding that there will be a negotiated acquisition of the property by the City.”

While everyone understands that City processes take time, “We hope that the participants undertaking these tasks will keep in mind that Connecticut Public is seeking to provide its full services from its new Norwalk facility as soon as we can make it happen,” Knopp said. “We need as a City to be flexible and reasonable to accomplish many of the development tasks that now will have to happen simultaneously rather than the traditional sequential approach.”

He explained, “In terms of next steps, we are working cooperatively with Connecticut Public to establish both a classroom and a reporter’s office in {the existing} main library without any new construction so that their educational programs both for veterans and for the Norwalk High Digital Media and Communications Academy can begin without waiting for the bigger project to start. A working group composed of representatives of the library, of the city, Connecticut Public and the Norwalk Public Schools will be meeting the day after tomorrow to start this work.”

Norwalk Public Schools had anticipated a CP-TV studio in the Fairfield County Bank building for its Norwalk High School media pathway but that fell through. Norwalk Superintendent of Schools Steven Adamowski said Monday that the studio and access to media professionals are needed for the pathway’s capstone project, part of the expansion to a 26-credit requirement for graduation.

“Thanks to Sen. Duff’s efforts we have other options now,” Adamowski said. “This is an example of how our city can move in the right direction when it needs to.”

“Connecticut Public serves nearly one million citizens each month through radio and TV programming, as well as through many digital and online platforms,” according to a statement from the nonprofit.  “Connecticut Public is home to Connecticut Public Television (CPTV), Connecticut Public Radio (WNPR), and Connecticut Public Learning, which offers direct service education to teens, adults and veterans in digital media and provides educational programming on television, radio and online.

CPTV President Jerry Franklin touts the planned partnership, Monday in the Norwalk Public Library.

CP-TV President Jerry Franklin said he loves Norwalk’s new logo and slogan, “The Sound of Connecticut.”

Imagine saying “Coming to you live from The Sound of Connecticut” with every broadcast, he said.  “We are not trying to teach people to be digital producers. We use our digital media skills to teach life skills. So digital media skills are important regardless of what you do.”

“Libraries are having a moment,” Norwalk Public Library Director Christine Bradley said, explaining that 640,000 people came into Norwalk’s libraries last year and there were 425,000 “virtual visitors” to the library website.

“We look at the place next door, which is a small office building, we look at the option the city has,” Rilling said. “You look at this parcel of land right in downtown Norwalk and there’s going to be some opportunities down the road for us to take advantage of. We want to make sure that we don’t miss those opportunities. Because as Alex mentioned, as Sen. Duff mentioned, this is going to be a gamechanger for downtown Norwalk. When we do it and when we do it right.”

Asked by NancyOnNorwalk about his “moonshot” phrase, Knopp said, “It’s a moonshot because it combines a high level of importance to the city with a high degree of difficulty in pulling off. When I hear the term moonshot it means to me, ‘everyone has to make a really extra effort to work together to get this done.’”

A rendering of one of the options to expand the Norwalk Public Library.

6 comments

Piberman January 29, 2019 at 8:18 am

Wouldn’t handing out modern computers to school students whose families are unable to provide same also be a suitable use of public funds. Especially when the world’s libraries are increasingly available on the World Wide Web ? And libraries futures are increasingly questioned ?

Diane Lauricella January 29, 2019 at 8:49 am

NON, Thankyou for this article.
An interesting proposal well worth examining! Sounds like a great opportunity!
Let’s include additional citizens in the planning process soon and consider raising additional funds through private sector…family foundations, corporations, etc.

E January 29, 2019 at 9:49 am

Yes, thanks for posting. Really interesting- real collaboration to develop/preserve our wonderful Library as a next-gen, unique community/regional resource – and support CP too – love it!! Agree this would be a magnet for philanthropic funding.

Teacher January 29, 2019 at 11:28 am

How about using public funds to create a “Be more positive fund”, or a “We’ll help you move” fund for the non-stop negative drumbeat of some…

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