Planning for a new downtown public library drew more than 200 people to two community forums Tuesday evening at Parmly Billings Library.
The strong turnout on a bitterly cold day underscored local support for public library services. The citizens were invited again and again at the forums to share their ideas about what the new library should include — and not include. Participants gave the planners lots of ideas.
Will Bruder, a Phoenix-based architect whose firm has been hired to lead the design team, spoke passionately about the mission of public libraries and the responsibility of architects to balance poetry and pragmatism in designing a functional library that will be a source of community pride. Bruder's work is being paid for by an anonymous donor who pledged $2 million toward construction of a new downtown library.
Having Bruder's firm on board in the initial planning is expected to move the process forward more quickly to a finished design the City Council can consider taking to voters later this year.
Billings architects Don and Kim Olson, who are participating in the renovation of the historic Babcock building, also are part of the library design team.
The Community Design Center at the Montana State University School of Architecture also will provide local insight in the design process. Thomas McNabb, director of the center, is a Billings native who spent his childhood here. McNabb will supervise 11 MSU architecture students on the Billings library project, including two Billings residents: Curtis Pattee, a West High graduate; and Michael Romito, a Skyview High grad.
One of the students' first assignments was on display Tuesday in the drab, cavernous and usually unheated third floor library meeting area. As people walked off the elevator, they were greeted by floor-to-ceiling displays of photos of Billings. The images of people, building details and places were intended to help participants take new looks at their community.
The student photo display set the tone for public meetings that involved a good deal of public comment from many citizens.
Kudos to library staff and board members and the design team for planning and conducting meetings that engaged the public so well. The process has only just begun, but it's on a good track.