Missoula County commissioners wholeheartedly agreed Wednesday to place a $30-million library bond on the November ballot pending a financing agreement with the Missoula Public Library board.
If voters say yes, the money will help finance construction of a four-story, 121,000-square-foot library – three times the size of the current building – with underground parking on a full city block.
It'll be built across North Adams Street from the existing library. The block is also bounded by East Main, Jefferson and East Front streets. All seven rental apartments and houses encompassed there are owned by Missoula businessman Terry Payne, who agreed to trade the block for the library’s current property at 301 E. Main St.
That deal, years in the making, was announced by the library board in February during an update with commissioners.
The new library would replace the current facility that was opened on April 1, 1974, and given a 30-year life expectancy. Forty-two years later it’s the state’s busiest as the hub for more than 1 million checkouts a year. The board said aging heating and air conditioning systems are wasting taxpayer dollars.
“We are clearly hampered by our building’s outdated condition,” library director Honore Bray said.
“I think it’s important not only for the future but to catch up,” said commissioner Jean Curtiss, who took part in a 3-0 vote with commission chair Cola Rowley and Stacy Rye at the end of an hour-long hearing.
Supporter after supporter spoke in favor of the resolution in a packed commissioners’ conference room. No opposition was heard, though commissioners noted they expect to hear from plenty of skeptics in coming months.
According to library plans, three Missoula nonprofits – the University of Montana’s SpectrUM Discovery Area, the Children’s Museum Missoula, and Missoula Community Access TV, or MCAT – would move into the building, allowing them to share their educational programs and exhibits for free admission. SpectrUM and the Children's Museum have to charge to pay for rent in their current homes downtown.
Brandon Prinzing of A&E Architects displayed what he called "very preliminary" renderings of the potential library. They showed a cafe, administrative offices, MCAT and public space called the Marketplace on the ground floor; a children’s floor above it that would include SpectrUM and Children's Museum Missoula; adult nonfiction, fiction and periodicals on the third level, and a fourth floor with an open-air terrace, conference and green space and expansive views.
It's designed, Prinzing said, with “lots of glass, openness, transparency, liveliness.”
“Whether we use limestone, wood or glass, we want this to be a 100-year building, we want it to be LEED-certified … lasting, low-maintenance, low operational costs," Prinzing said. "This is going to be a building that hopefully is one of the best buildings in the state of Montana."
Barbara Theroux of Fact and Fiction Bookstore presented a letter supporting the bond measure that was signed by 278 county residents.
"At a cost of approximately $2.34 per month on a $200,000 home, a new, expanded, modern public library will provide tremendous value to the county," it said.
A conservative cost estimate for the library as designed is $38 million. Frank Scariano, who’s leading a capital campaign launched in February by the Library Foundation, told commissioners nearly $1.5 million in pledges have been raised to supplement the bond request. The official campaign goal is $5 million.
“Ideally we want to energize this community to help us raise $8 million,” said Mae Nan Ellingson, who’s working on the financials of the campaign. “That’s the vision we have for all of our partners and for the library, for a world-class building that we can all be proud of."
“If we do not reach the $38 million," she added, "we know we can build a library for $35 million. It won’t have the same finishes. It may not have underground parking and it may be a smaller footprint, but we know we can build a quality library/museum complex for $35 million and we’re very, very confident that we can raise $5 million.”
Curtiss and Rye acknowledged that the decision to ask taxpayers for another $30 million is not made lightly.
County voters approved a $42 million parks and trails bond two years ago, and a $70 million high school bond for Missoula County Public Schools last year. Those in the MCPS elementary district also passed an $88 million elementary bond in 2015.
Rye, the newest member on the commission, said it’s the first time she and Rowley have had to vote whether a significant bond issue should go on the ballot. She admitted she wrestled with what her role and responsibility should be.
“Ultimately," Rye said, "I ended up thinking that if the community had done its due diligence, that if there was a significant showing of support, that if it was a project that was reasonable, rational and made sense, and if it even had a little bit of romanticism or love associated with it, that I was not in the position to stand in its way.”
The resolution passed by Rye, Curtiss and Rowley calls for the commissioners and library board to sign an agreement that details timing considerations and ensures design and construction of the library can be accomplished with available funding sources. If that’s reached in time to place it on the November general election ballot, commissioners will pass a subsequent resolution to do so.
County commissioners also said Wednesday they’re postponing from May 4 to June 1 the public hearing on an updated county growth policy.
Launched in October 2014, the process is approaching its conclusion. It’s the first growth policy developed independent of the city, which adopted its own in November.
Commissioners received the lengthy draft on March 31 from County and Planning Services (CAPS) and a consulting team led by Land Solutions LLC. They say they need additional time to pore over comment letters, public testimony and planning board recommendations. Their suggested changes will be posted for public review and comment, probably the week of May 16.
Three additional work sessions in Room 206 of the administration building at 199 W. Pine St. are scheduled for Friday from 10 a.m. to noon; Thursday, May 5, from 3 to 5 p.m. and Friday, May 6, from 1 to 3 p.m. You can track the project at mcgrowthpolicy.us.
On Tuesday commissioners signed a resolution to include a representative of voters with disabilities and the elderly on the county’s election advisory committee.
The elections advisory committee was established in December 2014 to act as a liaison between the public and the elections administrator.
Elections administrator Rebecca Connors said the new member, who will be either a voter with a disability or someone with extensive knowledge of the Americans with Disabilities Act, will communicate present accessibility issues to the committee.