City officials are pushing ahead with plans to move the Parmly Billings Library into the nearby Gainan's building at 502 N. 30th St. Because the project partially relies on federal stimulus funds that must be allocated by the end of 2010, the city is moving quickly.
Library officials will present their plan at a City Council work session Monday night, and the council could vote by the end of November to place the matter before voters in the spring.
The $23 million bond measure would have to be approved by voters, and includes $8 million for a lease-purchase of the Gainan's building, as well as another $15 million for renovating and expanding the building.
The existing Gainan's building is 33,500 square feet and includes a large greenhouse area. If the library's plan is approved by voters, the city would build a 25,000-square-foot addition onto the building before moving in about two years from now.
Once in the building, the library would pay an annual lease of $423,000 to Gainan's for 20 years, after which the library would own the building. To fund the expansion, the city would rely on stimulus bonds from the federal government, said Library Director Bill Cochran. Stimulus bonds offer a 45 percent rebate on interest costs, so the bonds would carry an interest rate of about 3.7 percent, Cochran said.
Using rough figures, Cochran estimated that taxpayers would save about $17 million over 20 years when using stimulus bonds versus regular bonds.
Cochran estimated that the owner of a $200,000 home would pay an additional $17 a year in taxes for 20 years to fund the project. After 20 years, the additional levy would expire.
The plan calls for a large youth area in the new library and plenty of open space and computer terminals. The Gainan's greenhouse would remain, with two-thirds of the glass-ceilinged area as a reading space, and the rest as a large meeting room. Plans also include a coffee shop and public space on all three floors.
Library staff, as well as library foundation members and city administration, are desperate to move out of the current library building, which was built half a century ago as a hardware store and warehouse and lacks heating or cooling on the third floor.
If the library moved to the Gainan's building, the city would likely sell the current building and land to a private developer, and the proceeds could be used to either pay down the cost of the bonds or be invested in a branch library. Cochran estimated the value of the land at $2 million to $3 million, and he thought that most developers would want to tear down the building.
Cochran gave a tour of the library to four City Council members on Wednesday, and at each stop pointed to antiquated equipment or the need for expensive renovations. Councilman Dick Clark worked in the building when it was a hardware store and met his wife there more than 50 years ago.
"It's going to take a ton to get (the current library) back in shape," Clark said. "It's an old building in really bad shape and it was never built to be a library. But it served the city well for a long time. I think the Gainan's building would be a great location for the library."
Two boilers in the library's basement are original and the pipes leading from them are coated in asbestos. One of the boilers has been condemned by the state and isn't running. Also in the basement are new fire doors, the result of $500,000 in repairs ordered after the Fire Department found numerous code violations, Cochran said.
There are also plenty of visible problems. The library doesn't have enough seating, computers or usable space. Nearly one-third of the floor space in the building is unusable.
"We operate like a big convenience store," Cochran told the council members. "You come in, but you can't find a seat."
The library has been preparing for a possible $15 million renovation of the current library that would go on a future ballot, but Cochran said the Gainan's move would be better for the library, even if it costs $8 million more. He also said that moving to Gainan's would be cheaper than building an entirely new library. Cochran regularly cites figures showing that the city's library ranks last in many space categories when compared with other libraries in the state.
Cochran said a city the size of Billings should have 100,000 square feet of library space. The current library offers about 57,000 square feet of usable space, including offices and storage. Moving to Gainan's would increase that to 58,500 square feet, and possible branches in the Heights and West End would likely put the city within reach of 100,000 square feet.
Gainan's said it has outgrown its downtown building and plans to move its operations to the West End. But the company doesn't want to sell its building outright and wants to maintain a downtown presence. The lease-purchase arrangement allows the city to own the building after 20 years, and Gainan's would likely build a small retail store next to the proposed library.
CTA Architects Engineers, which designed the Gainan's building, was hired to complete a feasibility study for the city. The firm recommended two options: building the library with space included for a Gainan's store, or building a separate Gainan's store outside. For legal reasons, the city's bond counsel recommended a separate building for Gainan's.
If the council approves the ballot measure, it would likely be on a ballot next spring. The stimulus bonds must be allocated by the end of 2010, so city officials must move fast. A $12 million bond measure to build a new library failed in 2002.
"We need a bond issue either way, to fix the old one or move into the new one," Clark said. "But I think the Gainan's building would make a much nicer library when it's finished. I think we need some kind of idea what we're going to do with the old building, because people are going to ask about that. Hopefully, we'll have a lot of that figured out before we put it on the ballot."