Wow... Just Wow

A gleaming campus that includes an expanded 115,000 sq. ft. footprint for the Boise library, a 20,000 sq. ft. HQ for Boise Arts & History, an 18,000 sq. ft. event space and 20,000 sq. ft. outdoor plaza.


If the Boise Library didn’t have an exclamation point attached to its name already, you can bet that one would soon follow the next iteration of the city’s main library. The eye-popping designs, revealed for the first time to the public and Boise City Council on June 26, are the masterworks of renowned architect Moshe Safdie. A four-year process which began with multiple brainstorming sessions—so-called “design thinking” workshops with 150 citizens and countless sketches—resulted in a gleaming campus that would not only reinvent the current iteration of the main library branch with an expanded 115,000-square-foot footprint, but include a 20,000-square-foot headquarters for the Boise City Department of Arts and History, an 18,000-square-foot event space for theatrical productions and other presentations, and a 20,000-square-foot outdoor plaza featuring landscaped rooftops with spectacular downtown views.

“We have to stress that this is a master plan ‘concept’ and there’s a lot of work to be done,” said City of Boise spokesman Mike Journee.

A major part of that “work to be done” will depend on public input gathered at a series of open house sessions from Monday, July 16, through Friday, July 20, at library branches in Bown Crossing (July 16), Cole and Ustick (July 17), Hillcrest (July 18), Collister (July 19) and wrapping up at the current Main Library (July 20). If all goes as planned, detailed schematic designs will continue for approximately a year, and construction crews could break ground on the project as early as fall 2019, with a possible opening about 2 1/2 years later.

A major piece of the project will be a new home for the city’s Arts & History department, which will include space for its ever-expanding archives—the city’s public and fine art collection is valued at more than $6.5 million. Additionally, the new Arts & History headquarters will provide gallery space to showcase local artists and historians and a conservation lab to protect and care for the city’s collection of historic assets.

Another integral element to the campus will be a new event space. Think of it as a 300-seat black box-type theater with retractable seating.

The main attraction will, of course, be a 21st-century library with an Automatic Storage and Retrieval System. The ASRS will undoubtedly become a must-see attraction in its own right. The four-story robot, encased in glass so the public can spot it from outside the building, will be able to retrieve and deliver tens of thousands of items without ever taking a coffee break. Simply put, the majority of the library’s collection will be stored in special bins inside the glass-encased tower, thus freeing up an enormous amount of space in the library, while accommodating tremendous growth potential.

“It will save us about seven times the space we would normal need for linear shelving,” said Boise Public Library Director Kevin Booe. “We could theoretically expand our collection by 400,000 to 500,000 items.”

If approved, the new main library and Arts & History center would become the largest capital project in the city since the first concourse was built for the Boise Airport in the late 1960s. As the public gets its first glimpse of the concept, there will be plenty of questions. Here are just a few:

How much?
The estimate is $80 million to $85 million, with the majority coming from long-term financing and existing city funds, and about $18 million in philanthropy.

Will the library continue services during construction?
Right now, library officials say they’ll continue to serve the public at the Main Library and will be more specific once a phasing plan is developed.

What about parking?
Library officials first wanted underground parking, but that’s cost-prohibitive, especially considering the proximity to the Boise River. Now, they’re looking at the possible construction of a four-story parking garage on an adjacent street. Since most downtown parking garages are the purview of the Capital City Development Corporation, that urban renewal agency might be expected to foot the bill and manage the complex. A limited number of street-level spaces would be available near the new library campus to accommodate handicapped or special needs parking.

What will the impact be on the nearby Anne Frank Memorial?
Right now, the memorial will be incorporated into the newly proposed landscape.

How about The Cabin?
City officials say they’re working with The Cabin’s board to find a sustainable solution for that organization. In all likelihood, The Cabin will move to a new location as it’s not a part of any initial design sketches.

Why not improve the current building?
As Boise Weekly has reported for more than a decade, city officials have continually pumped millions of dollars into the current building for maintenance and upgrades. Keeping the current building is not deemed to be a sustainable solution for the long-term.