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One of Downtown Boise’s historic buildings has sold. Here’s what the owner has planned.

The new Boise public library: Woodward looks forward — and back

Idaho Statesman columnist Tim Woodward is pretty excited about a new public library. But he remembers being, oh, so excited when the old one was the new library. "Let's not forget all the great things this one has done for us," he says.
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Idaho Statesman columnist Tim Woodward is pretty excited about a new public library. But he remembers being, oh, so excited when the old one was the new library. "Let's not forget all the great things this one has done for us," he says.

The CEO of a North Idaho tech firm has purchased Downtown Boise’s historic Carnegie Public Library building.

Shawn Swanby, 45, who founded Ednetics when he was a University of Idaho student, plans to renovate the building and use a portion of it for the Post Falls company’s Boise office. He said he and his wife, Sarah, feel fortunate to buy such a storied building.

“These types of properties really need to be brought back to the community and need to have people that are willing to be stewards of them,” Swanby said during a telephone interview.

The Carnegie Public Library was built in 1905 at 815 W. Washington St. Philanthropist Andrew Carnegie, owner of the Carnegie Steel Co., provided $20,000. Today, that would be worth $564,000. It was one of more than 2,500 Carnegie libraries built around the country.

carnegie library donation
This Idaho Statesman report in 1905 said Andrew Carnegie increased his donation to the Boise library after being asked.

The library, listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1974, served as Boise’s library for nearly 70 years. It was replaced by the current library on Capitol Boulevard, a former warehouse, in 1973. The Carnegie building, which is vacant, was used until recently as private law offices.

The two-story, neoclassical building, made from brick and sandstone mined from Table Rock, was designed by famed Boise firm Tourtellotte & Hummel Architects. The firm designed some of Boise’s most important buildings, including the nearby Idaho State Capitol and Boise High School.

The firm, now known as Hummel Architects, was hired by Swanby to design the renovations.

“It’s a very historic firm, and they have quite a resume of impressive historic buildings in Idaho,” Swanby said.

When he interviewed the firm, representatives brought the original floor plans for the building, printed on linen.

“They were absolutely beautiful,” he said. “They just made me very nostalgic about what the building could be.”

carnegie original drawing
The original architect’s drawing of the Carnegie Public Library, built in the early 1900s. It opened in May 1905 with a fund-raising gala to help pay for furniture. Provided by Hummel Architects

“As the building’s original architecture firm, we admire Shawn Swanby’s vision of embracing and restoring the Carnegie Library to its original interior design,” Scott Straubhar, Hummel’s principal architect, said in an email. “We look forward to integrating modern technology into classic architecture while retaining the character and historic aspects of the property.”

The library is a “key part of Boise’s story” and its preservation is of importance to the city and state, Paula Benson, president of Preservation Idaho, said in an email to the Idaho Statesman. Swanby has reached out to the group, Benson said.

“We are very interested in their plans and hope to work with them to achieve their goals while preserving the important architecture and historical elements of the building,” Benson said.

Last year, Boise developer Ken Howell planned to turn the building into the Carnegie Studios, a place for artists to create. He was unable to work out a deal with St. Michael’s Episcopal Church, which had owned the building for 11 years.

Swanby, a 1992 graduate of Kuna High School, said he paid “near the asking price” for the building. It was listed for $3.1 million by Colliers International.

Ednetics, which provides information technology services to schools and government agencies, was founded in 1997. It has 130 employees spread among eight offices, including Post Falls, Meridian, Portland, Phoenix and Los Angeles. About 65 are located in Idaho.

The Meridian office, with seven workers near Eagle and Franklin roads, will relocate to the Carnegie Building in spring 2021, Swanby said. It will serve as the company’s Western-states anchor, and Swanby expects to add more staff then.

Plans for the building will be drawn up by the end of the year. Construction is expected to begin in early 2020 and finish 15 months later, Swanby said.

Swanby said he and his wife are passionate about the role of arts and culture in learning. They would like to see the building used to help promote those concepts and are exploring ideas.

“We feel it’s important to bring the building back as a public venue,” he said.

Reporter John Sowell has worked for the Statesman since 2013. He covers business and growth issues. He grew up in Emmett and graduated from the University of Oregon.If you like seeing stories like this, please consider supporting our work with a digital subscription to the Idaho Statesman.

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