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Property swap will simplify construction of new Missoula Public Library

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The 2009 Greater Downtown Master Plan envisioned a “cultural district” stretching from the Clark Fork River to the Missoula Children’s Theater. A property exchange between the Missoula Public Library and a neighboring land owner could help realize part of that vision.

By Martin Kidston/MISSOULA CURRENT

The Missoula Public Library has reached an agreement with a neighboring land owner to exchange properties, simplifying the construction of a new state-of-the art library next year, the director said Thursday.

In order for the exchange to occur, however, the public must first approve a $25 million library bond, which will likely appear on the November ballot.

“When the bond passes, we’ll have a property exchange between the library’s board and Terry Payne for the property just east of us,” said Honore Bray, director of the Missoula Public Library. “The property is available, and the board has signed the agreement for the exchange to happen.”

The property to the east encompasses one city block and is currently home to a collection of older houses, several of which have been converted to apartment buildings. The Missoula Children’s Theater sits to the north and Kiwanis Park lies to the south.

The city’s 2009 Greater Downtown Master Plan once envisioned the area as a “cultural corridor,” part of which would be realized with the alignment of the library and the children’s theater. A student housing project is expected to break ground across from the current library this spring.

“The new location fits into the downtown plan,” Bray said. “By us moving, we’ll still have that open corridor to the river – that cultural corridor.”

Swapping properties would also simplify the construction process and save costs by preventing the library from renting another facility and storing much of its material. By building on the neighboring site, Bray said, the library can stay open throughout construction.

“We would have to move twice if they were building on this site,” she said. “We only have to move from this site onto the new site. It saves us a lot of money. We don’t have to put things in storage, and we continue to stay open.”

Bray said the library has been working with the neighborhood to discuss its plans. It held an open house earlier this month after delivering invitations to properties from Madison Street to Higgins Avenue.

“It was the first effort to look at the plans and give more feedback from those plans and see what people thought,” Bray said. “We’re doing a lot more of that between now and November.”

Missoula County commissioners will consider placing a $25 million library bond on the November ballot. Bray said the bond would cost property owners roughly $2.40 a month for 20 years. The library is also in the process of raising $10 million privately.

Plans for the new facility envision an “under one roof” concept, where a number of local agencies and nonprofits would share space to bolster educational outreach. The children’s floor would include SpectrUM and Children’s Museum Missoula, Bray said.

Missoula Community Access Television will also be included in the project, providing digital literacy. Bray said a “live learning lab” will also allow professors at the University of Montana to share their research with the larger public.

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Student housing project planned for Front Street near Missoula Public Library.

“To many, it’s a library and a museum, or whatever the other needs are combined together under one roof,” Bray said. “We’re very excited about the plans moving forward.”

A student housing project is expected to break ground this spring across the street from the existing library and open to UM students in late 2017.