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How to Build a Boise Branch Library (Book by Book)

Boise prepares for the much-anticipated Bown Branch

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Think of the opening day of a new Boise library branch like Black Friday—a holiday-like feeling accompanied by a mad dash for everything new.

"I remember opening the library of the Cole and Ustick neighborhood branch [in 2009] as if it were yesterday," said Kathleen Stalder, Boise Library Acquisition and Technical Services supervisor. "Just before we opened the doors, everything was new and looked amazing."

While city officials fully expected the latest jewel in the crown of Boise's library branches to be a success, they were pleasantly surprised but a bit stunned as they watched patrons with arms-full of books heading to the check-out desk.

"Half of the collection was gone in a day or two," said Stalder, a 10-year veteran of the library. "That opening was rather staggering."

The 2009 branch opening will likely be dwarfed by the much-anticipated 2017 debut of the Bown Crossing branch, the fourth satellite library to open since the Boise City Council approved a branch library network in 2007.

"Are we anticipating an extremely popular grand opening when we swing the doors open at Bown Crossing? Oh, yes," said Boise Library System Director Kevin Booe, about to celebrate his 36th year with the library. "Take the Hillcrest branch [opened in 2008]. About 4,000 people per week walk through those doors, as much traffic as the nearby Albertsons. The Bown location could easily be just as popular."

First, there's the matter of getting it built.

"Welcome. Let me show you around, but watch your step," shouted Bruce Steinwinter, superintendent with Boise-based Construction Managers General Contractors, the man overseeing construction of the Bown branch. "This build-out is unlike any branch you've seen."

Steinwinter's arms stretched wide as he pointed to nearly every one of the soon-to-be-completed walls, which will feature giant panes of tempered glass showcasing the nearby Boise Foothills and trendy southeast Boise neighborhood.

While much of the site is currently a frame of steel girders, Steinwinter pointed to spots where the main lending area, outside patio and even a grand-scale fireplace will soon appear.

"Fireplaces were a fixture in all of the original Carnegie libraries," said Booe, referring to the nation's first lending institutions, many of them donated by philanthropist Andrew Carnegie. Idaho's first lending library, also funded by Carnegie, was built on Washington Street in Boise in 1905.

"All of the focus groups we talked to in Boise told us, 'Please put a fireplace in the Bown library.' We're going back to the future," Booe said.

As for the immediate future, Rob Bousfield, assistant city engineer with the Boise Public Works Department, is acting as project manager for the Bown branch construction.

"At any given time, I'm working on several projects at various stages of development—the new fire stations or the redesign of the City Hall plaza. Don't tell anyone, but..." said Bousfield, taking a long pause and breaking into a big grin, "The Bown project is my favorite. What can I say? I'm a book guy. Plus, my family lives in southeast Boise. So, I'm excited on a personal level."

The idea of the Bown project dates back almost as far back as the 2004 concept of creating branches. Some concept designs were drawn up in 2010. But then the recession waylaid just about every major Boise project. It wasn't until January 2015 that city officials gave the green light to jump-start the design process again with construction originally scheduled to being in late 2015.

"But some initial bids from contractors came in a little high. We worked with them for a while to bring those costs down and we eventually started digging in mid-December," said Brousfield. "But then we ran into another hiccup with the new type of roofing system that we'll be using—it's a cross-laminated timber that looks great but has very specific dimensions. The bottom line now is that we'll probably be opening in March 2017."

Total construction costs for the Bown Crossing Branch Library will be $6.2 million. But that's just for the building and amenities. You can't truly "build" a library without materials, and the Bown branch will have some of the best—certainly the newest—on opening day.

"That contract for our opening day collection is $585,000," said Stalder, referring to the tens of thousands of books, DVDs, CDs and other materials that will fill the shelves of the new branch when it opens. "We secured the contract with Ingram Library Services."

Tennessee-based Ingram will curate the entire new collection for the Bown branch, based on considerable data that has been sent from the Boise Library. That includes key demographics and specific desires for the southeast Boise neighborhoods that will routinely access the Bown branch.

"Generally, libraries skew about 60 percent to 40 percent, adults to youth. But for the Bown branch, we'll be closer to 50/50, based on the fact that there are so many families in that area and that we'll be operating right next to a school," said Stalder, referring to Riverside Elementary School, which is so close to the new branch they'll share vehicle access points.

When the books arrive in a massive shipment from Tennessee in early 2017 they'll be ready for shelving—Ingram will have already sorted and coded each book in the order they'll be displayed on the Bown shelves.

"It will take us about three weeks to get all the shelves filled," said Stalder, "and then the fun begins. So, look out for those crowds on opening day. But rest assured, we'll be ready."

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