B y noon on Monday, as many as 500 people had already strolled through the new Billings Public Library, most of them wide-eyed and grinning.

When the library opened at 10 a.m., Director Bill Cochran stood at the door on Sixth Avenue North to let in the 50 or so folks waiting in the freezing cold. He expects to see a 30 to 40 percent increase in the number of daily patrons with the new $20 million library.

“It’s been a busy couple of years, but it’s done now and people seem really happy with it,” Cochran said.

A 4-year-old girl was the first patron Monday. Julia Sullivan and her parents Stephanie and Tony were looking for a Buzz Lightyear book.

“We came down just for Julia, really,” Stephanie said. “This is really nice.”

Assistant Director Dee Ann Redman said she was choked up a bit when she saw all the people enjoying the new library.

“Everyone’s favorite place is the story tower,” Redman said.

Elizabeth Andrews, 16, and her 13-year-old brother, Micah, hit the front door and picked up their pace, eyes upward to the high ceilings and the first-floor skylight.

“Our dad worked here and showed us some pictures, but it’s even better being here,” Elizabeth said.

Elizabeth’s father, Damon, who works for High Point Network, was sick at home and could not attend the opening. Others who had a hand in constructing the new library were humbled by the turnout and the excitement among the visitors.

Clinton Kauffman, project engineer for general contractor Jackson Contractor Group of Missoula, leaned over the second floor landing, peering down on folks entering the library. He said every nook and cranny in the library is unique, which made the construction challenging.

“I’m just soaking it in right now,” Kauffman said. “Being in Montana, you don’t get to see a building like this. It’s definitely an honor to be part of this project.”

Kauffman’s favorite spot is the first floor sitting area below the skylight, because at night with all the lights shining down, it “feels like a spaceship is hovering over you,” he said.

His next task is overseeing the demolition of the old library, which should begin in March following abatement work inside.

Nick Pelensky, 20, said he liked the leisurely feel to the new library.

“They have nice stations set up,” Pelensky said. “This would be a nice place to bring your laptop and work.”

The coffee shop, which offers soup and sandwiches in addition to muffins and coffee drinks, was busy all morning. It is a second location for Sweet Cafe in the Heights and will be open most library hours.

A big hit Monday was the story tower in the children’s section. Children’s librarian Cindy Patterson said story time for children resumes at 10:30 a.m. on Jan. 16.

Phyllis Kindelman came to take the 11 a.m. tour with her friends. Free public tours continue through the week at 11 a.m., 2 p.m. and 6 p.m.

“Bozeman and Helena have such great libraries, but this one is architecturally so interesting and modern,” Kindelman said.

Patrons admired two art tables, one in the Montana Room and another in the second floor seating area facing North Broadway. Four Montana artists were commissioned to design tables for the library. The final two tables will be delivered next week.

“The building isn’t quite done yet,” Cochran said. “Each day, they will be seeing new features.”

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