Even at this stage of bare steel and concrete, you can get a pretty good idea of the grandeur of the new Billings library.
Standing on the west end of the second floor of the building and facing east, your eyes are drawn up by the sloping ceiling to the open space where 24-foot, floor-to-ceiling windows will look out over the Rims.
And as you can't help noticing when you drive past the new building, there is a large oval cut in the roof where a skylight will go, and a smaller oval toward the back of the library so children using a reading room can gaze up at the heavens.
Standing outside the structure Friday morning, Kris Koessl delivered an informed assessment of the new library.
"It's probably the most architecturally significant building in Billings," he said. "We didn't even design it and I think it is."
Koessl works for A&E Architects and is the owner's representative on the project, looking out for the city's interest during construction. (He's been busy lately, since he's also the construction manager for the Northern Hotel renovation.)
Koessl and library Director Bill Cochran gave a tour of the project to 13 library employees on Friday.
If all goes well, those employees will be in the new library by the end of November or the beginning of December, a little ahead of the original target of Dec. 31.
Koessl said roofers should be on site in the next week or two and the building could have a roof on — "dried-in," as Koessl put it — within about a month and a half. Once that happens, plumbing, electrical and other inside work will start in earnest.
The new library is a few feet north of the existing library, extending all the way from North 29th Street to North 28th, with its north side running along Sixth Avenue North.
It will have 33,000 square feet on each of two floors. Once the new library is built and occupied, the old library will be demolished. What is not salvaged will be pushed into the old library's basement and covered over, soon after becoming a landscaped parking lot and courtyard.
Besides the enormous windows on the east end of the new library, its most striking feature will probably be the "story cone." That will be an oval reading room for children, with a wooden cone extending up from the first floor, through the second floor and roof, then up another 15 feet, making it exactly as high as the existing library.
The big skylight in the middle of the library, which will also carry light down to the ground floor, is being made in Germany. It was modeled after the swimming venue at the Beijing Olympics and will have three interlocking bubbles of hard plastic.
The library was designed by Will Bruder of Will Bruder + Partners of Phoenix, Ariz. His services, plus engineering and related expenses, were paid for with a $2 million donation from an anonymous donor.
The Parmly Billings Library Foundation raised another $3 million in donations toward the overall cost of $18 million. Billings voters approved a $16 million bond issue for the library in 2011, but taxpayers will be on the hook for only $13 million.
The amount voted on was set at $16 million because bond issues can't be backed by pledges, only cash donations.
The new library also will feature 50 computer stations, an expanded teen room, a coffee shop, a public meeting room opening onto an outdoor courtyard and restrooms on each floor, plus separate family restrooms in the children’s area.