Boise & Garden City

Here's your chance to tell Boise what you think about its new library design.

Plans for a new Downtown Boise library call for a south-facing wall of glass overlooking the Boise River and Greenbelt. Architects said they plan to incorporate types of glass and coatings to make the building more energy efficient.
Plans for a new Downtown Boise library call for a south-facing wall of glass overlooking the Boise River and Greenbelt. Architects said they plan to incorporate types of glass and coatings to make the building more energy efficient.

Here is the schedule for five open house events the city of Boise is hosting for feedback on the main library’s proposed design:

July 16 – Library at Bown Crossing, 5:30 – 7:30 p.m.

July 17 – Library at Cole & Ustick, 5:30 – 7:30 p.m.

July 18 – Library at Hillcrest, 5:30 – 7:30 p.m.

July 19 – Library at Collister, 5:30 – 7:30 p.m.

July 20 – Main Library, 5:30 – 7:30 p.m.

The story below was published June 29, 2018, under the headline “We asked: Do you like the new Downtown Boise library design? Here’s what you said.

Opinions about Boise’s proposed new Downtown library appear mostly positive so far, based on an Idaho Statesman online poll.

Seventy-four percent of 219 people who responded by Friday to the poll on Facebook said they like the design they saw in artist’s renderings the city released Tuesday. The poll is unscientific, since its participants are self-selecting.

“This is exactly what a growing town like Boise needs!” Facebook user Christian Atley said. “I’m sure the old building has memories for you all, but it was a 1940s warehouse. Our library system is so wonderful here. Let’s spend the money on a beautiful, useful project for once!”

The library design, worked up by world-famous architect Moshe Safdie and Boise architectural firm CSHQA, calls for replacing the existing Downtown library on Capitol Boulevard with a four-story, contemporary building featuring a glass south side facing the Boise River. Building segments, including a small theater and headquarters for the city’s Arts & History Department, would nest into one another.

Not everyone is impressed.

“Building doesn’t really match the area,” Facebook user Tamara Peterson said.

Library River Street entry plaza PRESS-BRIEFING-LIBCAMP_Page_07.jpg
A funnel-shaped outdoor plaza along River Street forms the entrance to the main building in Safdie Architects’ design for Boise’s new main library. Provided by city of Boise

Facebooker M. Mark Stippich called the library a “nice design for LA or Europe, maybe a little to industrial for Boise ... It needs some wood, compressed beams ... More Importantly: Will it be nearly empty and struggling for funding a few years after opening? That Events space better be planning on bringing in some revenue.”

Stippich’s comment hinted at a concern other observers have voiced: With technology giving people more options for reading, will libraries be relevant 20 or 50 years from now?

The answer, city leaders say, is yes. Library use is increasing in Boise, they say. The Boise library system has 130,000 active borrowers, more than 50 percent of the city’s population, city spokesman Mike Journee said, and the average day sees 4,000 visitors at the Downtown library.

“So the idea that the library is antiquated is just simply not true,” Journee said. Boise’s libraries are “bursting at the seams. People want to be there for all kinds of reasons.”

Architects contacted by the Statesman were cautious. Some liked what they saw but want to see more details.

“The renderings look very, very nice,” said Steve Turney, principal of Boise’s ZGA Architects.

Library from 8th and River PRESS-BRIEFING-LIBCAMP_Page_06.jpg
Architects designed Boise's proposed new main library to offer access from the building's northwest (shown here) and northeast corners. Provided by city of Boise

Thomas Zabala, ZGA’s retired co-founder, has criticized some Downtown Boise buildings as unimaginative. Because he serves on the city’s Design Review Committee, he declined to give the proposed design a thumbs up or thumbs down.

“The city is obviously hoping to get a signature project, a gateway-type project,” Zabala said.

The Design Review Committee likely will review the project and vote on whether it should be approved.

A Boise developer, Scott Schoenherr, said he likes that Boise brought in a famous architect for the library. Schoenherr is a partner in Rafanelli & Nahas, which this month proposed a 10-story office building designed by a Seattle firm at 11th and Idaho streets that he hopes will be better-looking than most Downtown Boise office buildings.

Done right, Schoenherr said, the library project is a chance for City Hall to raise expectations about what’s appropriate design for Downtown.

“If anyone can raise the architecture for the city, it should be the city, right?” he said. “If the city is going to build ugly buildings, then how can they expect developers to do anything different?”

Library rooftop garden PRESS-BRIEFING-LIBCAMP_Page_09.jpg
A rooftop garden could sit on top of the Department of Arts & History's headquarters in a hoped-for new Boise library. Provided by city of Boise

Some poll respondents worried about the fate of The Cabin, a writing academy headquartered in a nearly 80-year-old log cabin just south of the existing library. It likely would move if the Safdie-CSHQA plan is followed.

“The designer may actively not care about our log cabin ... we do,” Peterson said. “To him it was obviously just collateral damage.”

But Atley was optimistic: “I’m sure a compromise with The Cabin can be reached.”

The library is the highest-profile building the city has taken on since the Boise Airport’s $108.5 million expansion and renovation in the early 2000s.

The city estimates that the 150,000-square-foot library, including a $10 million off-site parking garage, would cost more than $100 million.

“Way too steep of a price,” Peterson commented. “More (Mayor David) Bieter Bloat. Boise could do a lot with that kind of bucks. We have zero mass transit.”

library model 2.JPG
This three-dimensional model of Boise's proposed new main library sat in City Hall for a couple of hours Tuesday as city staffers and project architects briefed Mayor David Bieter and the City Council on the project. Sven Berg

Go to an open house

Boise has scheduled five open house events at its library branches around town to gather public input on its library proposal. The city hopes to start a fundraising campaign a year from now to raise part of the money needed, and to open the library by 2021.

Here’s the open house schedule. Times have not been announced:

July 16 – Bown Crossing library branch, 2153 E. Riverwalk Drive.

July 17 – Cole & Ustick library branch, 7557 W. Ustick Road.

July 18 – Hillcrest library branch, 5246 W. Overland Road.

July 19 – Collister library branch, 4724 W. State St.

July 20 – Main Library, 715 S. Capitol Blvd.