Missoula Public Library nearly finished, but COVID has delayed grand opening

Construction on the new public library has played out over the past two years and the building is nearly finish. The library will take possession of the facility this month, though the public opening has been delayed due to COVID-19. (Missoula Current file photo)

After years of planning, fundraising and ballot counting, those behind Missoula’s new Public Library said the $35 million project is on track for completion this month.

But due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the increasing rate of local cases, the facility won’t open to the public until a later date, library officials said this week.

“We are eager to welcome community members into their new Library,” said Barbara Berens, chair of the library’s board of trustees. “But our community’s safety is a top priority. The pandemic is forcing the Library to respond creatively and thoughtfully to a new normal.”

The project’s contractor, Dick Anderson Construction, will pass the building to the library later this month, though minor finish work will continue.

While library officials had planned for a celebratory ribbon cutting, the pandemic has since changed those plans. The City-County Health Department encouraged the library’s board of trustees to not open the building to the public until the pandemic shows signs of easing.

Until then, the library will continue to lend books and materials both online and through curbside pick up. It’s also providing a menu of digital resources and virtual programs.

“If there’s one thing that never changes, it’s that public libraries learn to adapt quickly to change,” said library director Honore Bray. “Our staff continues to strategize ways to meet the reading, learning, and information needs of library users.”

Bray said the library has also ended its policy on overdue fines. However, it does not apply to lost or damaged items, or Interlibrary Loan late fees.