Architect Will Bruder on Tuesday night compared the ongoing process of designing and building a new library in downtown Billings to turning a beloved book into a movie.
“We all know that when we read a great book, we’re all fearful of going to the movie,” he said. “...But sometimes we walk away saying, ‘That wasn’t a perfect telling of the book, but it was a great new retelling of the story.’”
About 50 people attended a Tuesday night meeting with Bruder and city and library officials to discuss recently unveiled design plans for a new public library at the site of Parmly Billings Library, 510 N. Broadway.
The updated designs, which Bruder, the Phoenix architect chosen to design the new library, presented to the crowd, include a new two-story library with high ceilings, large windows, an enclosed outdoor courtyard and updated technology areas.
Many of those in attendance had questions and comments about the building and plans, but most didn’t focus on design aspects.
One man in the crowd expressed concerns over plans to install solar panels on the building’s sloped roof in light of often cold and snowy winters. He said that because of that, there could be up to four months each year where the panels couldn’t be used because they’re covered in snow.
Bruder answered that new technology used in many solar panels in colder areas has far exceeded expectations and can help ensure that the roof stays clear of snow.
Another commenter questioned whether now is a good time to build a multimillion-dollar library during tough economic times and wondered why the current library couldn’t remain, for the time being.
Both Bruder and Mayor Tom Hanel said that now could actually be a good time to build. Hanel said that because of lower construction costs, it could be cheaper now.
“It’s a necessity,” Hanel said. “It’s not something we can put on the backburner any more.”
Bruder said a new library could be a community gathering place and source of information for people struggling financially.
Library Director Bill Cochran said Parmly Billings Library is well below the per capita averages for staff, both statewide and among libraries in cities similar in size to Billings.
He said he doesn’t expect the new library to add to staff. The library currently has a staff of 30, and with a more efficient use of more space in the new library, he said, that lack of staff wouldn’t be as much of an issue.
The library is expected to cost up to $18 million to build. Its foundation has started a capital campaign to raise at least $5 million in private funds, while as much as $13.4 million will be put to voters in a bond measure in November.
Cochran said that if the campaign raises more than $5 million, the bond measure would be lower. It has raised $2.3 million so far.
An anonymous donor gave $2 million to pay for Bruder’s work and other design work.