Boise & Garden City

Here's your first glance at what Boise's new library might look like.

Architect Moshe Safdie used a pen and ink to draw some of his early sketches for Boise's proposed new main library branch. Safdie used an iPad for other sketches, Boise Library Director Kevin Booe said.
Architect Moshe Safdie used a pen and ink to draw some of his early sketches for Boise's proposed new main library branch. Safdie used an iPad for other sketches, Boise Library Director Kevin Booe said.

Initial drawings of a proposed new main library in Boise show a circular children's library facing the Boise River, a small theater near Capitol Boulevard, a terrace on top of the children's library and a gallery.

The building's plan calls for four floors and about 110,000 square feet of library space, in addition to the 18,000-square-foot theater and more than 20,000 square feet for the Arts and History Department's new headquarters, which includes the gallery.

World-famous architect Moshe Safdie and a team that includes architects from Boise firm CSHQA have been working on the plan for the past few months. Their bid to design the library beat out six competitors for a city contract worth almost $400,000.

"It's definitely a Safdie design," Boise Library Director Kevin Booe said Thursday. "It is going to be an iconic structure. I think the form and the function blend beautifully. I think it's going to be a facility that the entire city is going to be proud of."

The Idaho Statesman obtained copies of early sketches, drawn by Safdie, and floor plans through a public records request. Artist's renderings showing how the building would actually look were not available. The drawings, some of which were done with pen and ink, show an evolving concept for a building whose south side is oriented to the river, with an entrance on the opposite side.

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 drawings reflect a below-ground parking area north of the library, but Booe said the city might not build that space, partly because it would be too expensive. Boise might rely on surface parking areas near the library, he said.

The city has not decided what to do with The Cabin, which hosts writing workshops and other literary exercises and is located just southwest of the existing library. The Cabin is not present in the drawings.

Boise has been trying to upgrade or replace its main library for almost two decades. The existing building is a warehouse from the 1940s that was retrofitted as a library in 1973. It’s smaller and offers fewer materials than libraries in peer cities like Salt Lake City or Spokane.

In 2008, estimates for replacing it ran as high as $120 million — too much for the City Council to swallow. Five years later, the city hired Utah firm Architectural Nexus and Dallas-based library consultant Godfrey’s Associates to work on options for remodeling, expanding or replacing the building.

Since then, the city has weighed the costs against the benefits of each approach. Remodeling the existing building would be cheaper but might buy only a few years as usage grows.

The city expects the Safdie project to cost $80 million. The money would come from some combination of fundraising; contributions from the city's general fund and the Capital City Development Corp., Boise’s urban renewal agency; and, likely, debt.

The city hopes to break ground in 2019 and open the new main library in 2021.

"The entire complex is just going to be a connection point for people who are looking for arts and history, library, do-it-yourself spaces, maker spaces, performance spaces," Booe said. "There's so much here. It's going to be a magnet for Downtown. I'm really proud of it. I can't wait to see it."

Booe said Thursday that the final product might not look exactly like the early concept, but it should be close.

The City Council is scheduled to review Safdie's proposal Tuesday.

A representative of Safdie's company declined to comment, as did CSHQA President Kent Hanway.