Fears of higher prices for steel and aluminum due to tariffs imposed on imported metals by President Donald Trump won’t significantly set back plans for a new four-story, $36 million Missoula Public Library. That's because officials budgeted for such unforeseen contingencies, according to two people involved in planning and fundraising for the new library.
Geoff Badenoch, a board member of the Foundation for Missoula Public Library, and Janna Lundquist, a leader of the Missoula Public Library Capital Campaign Committee, spoke to a crowd at the monthly City Club Missoula forum on Monday at the DoubleTree Hotel.
Badenoch downplayed fears that higher metals prices could force officials to scale back plans for the grandiose new building, which he called the “most important public building ever built in downtown Missoula.”
“Building costs have been going up because there’s so much building going on,” he said. “We kind of saw that coming. We’ve been working very hard with our builder, Dick Anderson Construction, to keep a handle on that. It’s likely going to cost more to have steel and aluminum, but it’s not that big of a cost.
"It will still be something we’ll be able to absorb with a planned contingency,"
he dsof. "We have a cushion in the cost of the project, so if we have an unforeseen cost we will be able to take care of it without cutting things out.”
The library is being paid for by a 20-year, $30 million bond approved by Missoula County voters, a $5.65 million capital campaign that has reached 98 percent of its goal and other various funding sources, including a pledge of $500,000 in Tax Increment Financing from the Missoula Redevelopment Agency.
Badenoch and Lundquist answered a long list of questions they commonly receive from the public. They reiterated the fact that the current library is old, small and energy-inefficient. They also drove home the point that the library’s leaders tried very hard to find a way to remodel or expand the current building or find another building in town that would accommodate it, including the old Missoula Mercantile, but architects and engineers told them those options were not feasible.
“The structural components of the current building would not allow us to add another floor,” Badenoch said. “Others asked, could we move the library to the Merc? We looked long and hard and had it examined by architects and engineers and the answer that came back was 'no'.”
The new 105,000-square-foot facility will also house Missoula Community Access Television, the SpectrUM Discovery Area (a public science museum for kids geared towards technology, engineering and math) and the Family’s First Children’s Museum, along with a café.
It will be built directly to the east of the current building at 301 E. Main St., and the current library will remain open during construction. There have not been any announcements about what local businessman Terry Payne will do with the old building once the new one opens.
Badenoch said that a library is an important part of any community, but especially to Missoula County.
He said there are seven different branches all over the county, including in several schools. There are 57,488 library card holders, and an average of 1,000 people a day go through its doors each day. Those people checked out 870,000 items last year.
“Every time a new book comes in, the staff selects a book they have to throw out (due to a lack of space),” Lundquist explained.
The new library will have a spot for directing transients and homeless people to social services, he said, and every effort will be made to make it as safe and secure as possible for children and families.
Lundquist added there will be a public groundbreaking event on Aug. 1.
A community meeting room on the fourth floor will have room for 250 people and expansive views of the surrounding river and mountains.
“In two years, there’s no reason why City Club can’t meet on that top floor,” Badenoch said. “And for our youngest readers, the new library is going to have space for them to read and do new activities. With the giant windows throughout, this is going to be a place where you enjoy being.”
Badenoch said libraries are community institutions that promote the well-being of citizens of all ages by “being inviting and accommodating spaces where true knowledge” is valued. However, he cautioned against expecting everything to go off without a hitch for a project of this magnitude.
"Are things going to go wrong? Probably," he said. "Are we going to have glitches in the process and are we going to have to pivot? Yes, we will."