Parmly Billings Library
A sketch shows proposed renovations to the existing Parmly Billings Library. (Courtesy photo)

The Parmly Billings Library Board decided Thursday to withdraw its recommendation to the City Council that the city purchase the Gainan’s building downtown and move the library there in a few years.

Some board members cited a “tepid” response from the public to buy the Gainan’s building for more than $4 million and to spend another $10 million on renovation and expansion. Another factor in the board’s decision was a new proposal from a Billings architect known for renovating old buildings.

Randy Hafer, president of High Plains Architects, unveiled a plan from his firm to drastically renovate the existing library building for about half the price of renovation estimated by the city.

The City Council is scheduled to hold a public hearing and vote Monday night on what to do about the library, but now it’s unclear what action, if any, the council will take. The options before the council were to move to the Gainan’s building on North 30th Street, renovate the existing building, build a new library or do nothing.

At the board meeting, library Director Bill Cochran distributed a letter from the Gainans outlining the purchase terms for the Gainan’s building. The Gainans offered to sell the building for $4.1 million to $4.5 million, financed at an interest rate between 6 percent and 7.5 percent, depending on market conditions.

But some board members balked at the deal. Board member Lloyd Mickelson wanted to look at sites for a new library, while board member Bill Lamdin said that the city was rushing into a decision to take advantage of federal stimulus bonds, which may not offer much savings over conventional bonds.

“The thing with the (stimulus) money — that’s a great thing, but that shouldn’t be driving this train,” Lamdin said. “I still don’t think (the Gainan’s option) is a bad idea, but it feels like a rushed idea.”

Several speakers at the meeting indicated that the Gainans, who did not attend, wanted to reach a deal with the city by the end of the year. Without that commitment, the city may be unable to purchase the Gainan’s building next year. In addition to withdrawing its recommendation, the library board voted unanimously to create a committee to study alternatives and report back by Oct. 1, 2010.

Hafer’s renovation plans for the existing building would cost about $8 million, he said. He based some of that estimate on planning and design work his firm did on a proposed MSU Billings College of Technology-city of Billings library on the West End.

One of the options the city had considered was to float a $15 million bond measure in 2012 to renovate the existing building. Hafer said that, without significantly altering the building’s structure, his firm can do it for $8 million.

Under Hafer’s plan, the main entrance would be moved back to the Broadway side of the building, and dozens of windows would be put back in to allow plenty of natural light. The old forced-air system of heating and cooling would be scrapped, and the building’s air would instead be regulated by in-floor radiant heating and cooling. Hanging ceilings would be removed and the exposed ceilings above would create a roomier feel, Hafer said.

Hafer said his goal is to earn the building a LEED platinum rating, the highest ranking for environmentally friendly buildings. He estimated that the annual utility savings alone would allow the library to increase its staff to operate on the now-vacant third floor.

The third floor would be the first to be renovated. Once finished, the third floor would hold parts of the library while renovations continued on the first and second floors, Hafer said. Working in phases from top to bottom would allow the library to stay in the building during the construction phase, saving an estimated $1 million.

“It has got to be done in a way that is compelling for the community, and what’s compelling for the community is cost,” Hafer said. “We just think there’s a way to make this a really quality building.”

Hafer said he has been interested in what to do with the library for a long time but got the idea to create a plan during a downtown meeting just a few weeks ago. He and his staff spent a few down days during the Thanksgiving break to sketch out the building design, and he presented packets to library board members during the meeting. Hafer has explained his plan to at least half of the City Council members, he said.


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