Boise library options come into focus

Five possibilities run the gamut from rearranging space to total renovation.

sberg@idahostatesman.comJuly 18, 2014 

  • THE LIBRARY'S FIVE OPTIONS

    Here's a summary of options for an upgrade to the Boise Public Library's main branch. The report didn't examine costs or analyze the time of construction or renovation.

    1. Renovation only: This option would add no new space to the building. It's a stopgap measure that would accommodate no future growth, but would create a better space for current patrons.

    Key impacts: The acquisitions department would be moved out. Collections would be reduced by 12 percent, periodicals by 30 percent, staff break room by 33 percent, reader seating by 15 percent and gathering spaces 1 percent.

    Staff space (square feet):5,978

    Collection space:36,603

    Reader seating:10,716

    Gathering spaces:8,204

    Support spaces:20,002

    Total square footage:80,503

    2. Renovate the building and expand the second floor, adding enough space to meet library needs for 10 years.

    Key impacts: Acquisitions would be moved. Collections would be reduced by 7 percent, periodicals by 38 percent, staff break room by 33 percent, reader seating increased by 19 percent, gathering spaces by 5 percent.

    Staff space:6,355

    Collection space:45,383

    Reader seating:11,485

    Gathering spaces:9,408

    Support spaces:18,265

    Total square footage:90,896

    3. Total renovation, including demolition of the library's first-floor single-level space. This would meet needs for 15 years.

    Key impacts: Acquisitions would be moved. Collections would be reduced by 6 percent, periodicals by 43 percent, staff break room by 33 percent, reader seating increased by 44 percent, gathering spaces by 17 percent.

    Staff space:7,149

    Collection space:45,331

    Reader seating:18,685

    Gathering spaces:12,196

    Support spaces:19,980

    Total square footage: 103,341

    4. Similar to option 3, but including a robotic shelving system that allows much more dense storage of books and other materials. Would meet needs for 20 years.

    Key impacts: Acquisitions would be kept on site. Collections would be increased 132 percent, current periodicals reduced by 53 percent, reader seating increased 87 percent, gathering spaces increased by 30 percent.

    Staff space:10,457

    Collection space:39,409

    Reader seating:22,902

    Gathering spaces:13,898

    Support spaces:17,906

    Total square footage:104,572

    5. All new building. Less total space than option 4, with increased efficiency through technology. Meets projected needs for 20 years.

    Key impacts: Acquisitions would be kept on site. Collections would be increased 135 percent, current periodicals reduced by 51 percent, reader seating increased by 87 percent, gathering spaces by 30 percent.

    Staff space:9,944

    Collection space:45,054

    Reader seating:14,902

    Gathering spaces:12,658

    Support spaces:16,968

    Total square footage:99,526

    Source: Godfrey's Associates, Architectural Nexus

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

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