Slowly but surely, the old Parmly Billings Library will come down, beginning Monday.
In fact — from the inside out, if you include furnishings like fixtures and toilets — it’s been coming down for the past five weeks or so.
Larry Matson, owner of L.M. Excavating Inc. of Columbia Falls, has been at work inside the old library on a soft demolition. Matson’s company is a subcontractor for Jackson Contractor Group of Missoula, the library project’s general contractor.
On Wednesday, crews were removing valves and service lines under North Broadway alongside the old library in anticipation of demolition beginning on Monday. Traffic along Broadway is limited to northbound only; construction fences are also limiting northbound traffic along North 29th Street.
Exterior demolition work will begin along the side of the old library nearest the new library. Matson, who has 20 years of demolition experience, said he expects the exterior work will take up to four weeks — but it could be done in as little as two and a half weeks.
As part of the new library’s LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification, 99 percent of what’s torn down will be recycled, Matson said.
Project Manager Mike Chase of Jackson Contractor Group of Missoula said the work being done by Matson’s crew is “more of a controlled demolition of the building.” The early part of next week’s work is being done to “remove some of the imminent danger with proximity to the new library,” he said.
Library Director Bill Cochran said he’s not too worried about any damage to the current facility.
“They are insured against any damage, but ideally for them and for us it won’t happen,” he said. “I have noticed some pretty solid protective lumber barriers between the two sites, and they are going to work very carefully.”
There was noise and vibration while the new library was being constructed, and Cochran said similar shaking is expected as the old building is taken down.
“Whatever noise they make, it will be done early on,” he said. “They’ve already done a lot taking things out, which leaves them a raw structure to take down.”
According to Chase, as the building comes down, steel reinforcement will be separated from the concrete. The concrete will be pulverized and used as backfill for the parking garden project, which will be constructed following the demolition and will feature 100 parking spaces.
Also in keeping with green principles, storm water and surface water from the roof of the new library will go through a series of storm pipes and inlets and into a piped trench called a French drain. Water will thus be returned to the water table, Chase said.
Demolition workers should pick up their pace beginning March 31, Chase said, “after we have created a buffer between the equipment and the face of the new building. After that the work will be much more productive.”
Chase said the work is still on schedule to meet the June 30 contractual deadline, which includes paving and landscaping for the parking garden and the inspections that must follow.
Cochran said the library will celebrate the accomplishment with one final grand opening event, probably at the end of June, depending on how quickly the work gets done.
In the meantime, he said, residents curious about the demolition process should respect the construction fences erected along Broadway and North 29th, walking along the opposite side of the street to allow workers and their equipment plenty of room.
“We suspect the community will be curious, but watch it from across the street, and be patient with parking,” Cochran said. “With all the new families coming to the library, we want to make sure they hold the hand of any children” as the demolition is carried out, he said.
“We understand that people are frustrated about parking, but we would ask them to move along and observe from the other side of the street,” Chase said.
He said his company is “extremely proud of the project we’ve been involved in, and we’re thankful to all the subcontractors involved. This kind of project, one that’s LEED-certified gold level, and the uniqueness of this building, you could count those on one hand within the state.”