Denise Baird calls herself a pragmatist. The president of the Boise Library board of trustees wants detailed, realistic ideas for improving Boise Library's main branch.
That's what Baird sees in a recent report by Utah firm Architectural Nexus and Dallas-based library consultant Godfrey's Associates.
"Personally, I feel like this Nexus effort is really focused on, 'Let's find something viable that we can get public support for,' " Baird said. "Much more so than some of the proposals I've seen in the past."
Baird didn't say which option she likes best out of the five options Nexus and Godfrey's presented. Whatever the final shape of the main branch, she wants something that does a better job of integrating the building on South Capitol Boulevard - a structurally sound, 1940s-era warehouse converted to a library in 1973 - into the surrounding neighborhood.
Besides animal tag supplier Biomark, the main branch counts as neighbors Julia Davis Park, the Boise Art Museum, The Cabin literary center, Boise River Greenbelt, a planned condominium and retail development, and Boise State University.
As it stands now, Baird said, the library is too isolated from those neighbors.
For at least 14 years, Boise has been trying to upgrade its main branch. It's smaller and has less in the way of materials than libraries in peer cities such as Salt Lake City and Denver.
In 2008, estimates for replacing it ran as high as $119 million - too much for the City Council to swallow. The city hired Nexus early last year to develop options for renovating, rebuilding or replacing the main branch. But two bond measures aimed at raising money for parks, open space, fire department and police facilities, turned the city government's focus away from the library process. Both bonds failed.
So far, the city has paid Nexus and Godfrey's almost $90,000, library budget expert Denise McNeley said. The options the companies developed reflect Boise's hope of enhancing the main branch as a place of leisure in addition to a place to check out books. The least involved - and cheapest - option proposes a general reworking of the building's interior space. It would move Acquisition and Technical Services - the people who buy library materials and decide where to stock them - and thousands of titles out of the main branch, possibly for relocation in the library system's three branches around the city.
That would open up some space in the building. But a superficial redesign can only accomplish so much, said Dick Waters, the Godfrey's consultant who worked on the Boise library presentation.
"It's a good building," Waters said. "It's just not a good building for a library."
One problem is that its support columns are too close together, dividing the floor space into parcels that aren't ideally suited for library purposes, Waters said. The best solution would be to move the main branch to a new building, perhaps on the same property, and sell the existing building for apartments or something similar, he said.
Long-term options in the Nexus-Godfrey's report propose installing automated equipment for checking in, sorting, storing and retrieving books and other materials. That would save space and staff requirements, Waters said.
Though it's likely the more involved options would cost more money, Godfrey's and Nexus haven't worked up cost estimates, Waters said.
Library Director Kevin Booe said he doesn't favor any one option over the others. Sometime in the next couple months, he said, the library board of trustees will hold a joint session with the City Council to discuss the options. After that, the city would hold a public outreach period to find out what people who use the library system think.
"We're definitely making headway in terms of finding something that's doable, finding something that's practical," Booe said. "I think that the answer to the resolution question really is with the public and lies with the council and the trustees."
Sven Berg: 377-6275