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Boise’s first library to see total revamp with eye toward historic preservation

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Future in Focus Downtown - Mutual of America

Boise’s original public library will soon get a top-to-bottom revamp, with an eye toward bringing it back to its original splendor.

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The Carnegie Library on Washington St. near the Idaho Statehouse dates to 1905 – and over the last 114 years or so, it housed everything from books to lawyer’s offices.

Now, as BoiseDev first reported in May, education technology firm Ednetics will take up residence – but not before a total revamp.

“We want people to come into the building and get a sense of the history and the meaning of what it was like in 1905 and the building’s role in the community,” Ednetics CEO Shawn Swanby said during a tour.

Revamp back to history

Famed local architects Charles Tourtellotte and John Hummel designed the building using sandstone from the Table Rock quarry. Primary funding came from Andrew Carnegie, who donated to 2,500 libraries around the world including 1,700 the United States. It served as Boise’s main library until 1972 when workers moved the books to the current site on Capitol Blvd.

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Mutual of America
116 & West

[How to solve the local new crisis? Look it up in the library]

The building is dominated by a 1980s-era revamp that brought in private offices for attorneys. While many of the finishes match the original architecture in a general sense, the space is dominated by false ceilings, small offices — and even a magic marker finish masquerading as marble.

“It really pulls away from the architecture,” Swanby said. “We are looking to open the space back up and use it for events.”

What once was a large open space fit for a library could again host the community through both public and private events, Swanby said. An Ednetics team of 20-25 people will move into the building’s first floor – which is like a daylight basement.

“It’s an enormous investment to get the building into the proper condition,” he said.

Swanby hired Hummel Architects of Boise to work on the project. The firm design the original 1905 structure as Tourtellotte and Hummel Architects.

“It’s been fantastic to get on the team and help the building come back into the public realm,” Scott Straubhar with Hummel said. “It’s really going to be a good project and collaboration and we are happy to be a part of it.”

The 1980s-era internal walls of the building are slated to go away. Photo: Don Day/BoiseDev

Challenges present possibility

Swanby said he first time he toured the building, he saw the possibility – and challenges of the space.

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Mutual of America
116 & West

“I felt a little freaked out. I thought ‘wow that’s impressive.’ I sent a note out to two people to talk me off the ledge.”

But the two folks he hoped would talk him out of it – instead convinced him to dive in.

One of those was Amy Keim-DesRosier, Ednetic’s chief brand officer.

“Amy said ‘hell yes, let’s get this done,’ and started rallying everyone behind the Carnegie project. She saw the potential to realign the marketing of Ednetics and who we are,” Swanby said.

Shawn Swanby shows off a portion of the Carnegie Library’s basement during a tour. Photo: Don Day/BoiseDev

The other was an architect friend who recently retired. Instead of warding him off, the friend said he would leave retirement to help make it happen.

“We see this is a center of education and community and learning – which is very much how we see Ednetics today. There’s a symbolic link.”

The library’s role downtown

The building sits inside a possible expanded Capital City Development Corporation urban renewal district. While the project could benefit from CCDC’s help – Swanby said he doesn’t want to see a large grassy area he now owns to the east of the building developed.

“We would like to see that green space be activated. We are very much interested in improving the flow that comes from 8th St. and the Capitol Building.”

Swanby declined to disclose his total investment in the Carnegie Library – other than to say it will be significant. The project could take a total of two years to design, build and complete.

“It has turned into a passion project. We want to prepare this building for the next 100 years.”

Green space next to the building will be retained. Photo: Don Day/BoiseDev
Don Day
Don is the founder and editor of BoiseDev. He is a National Edward R. Murrow Award winner and a Stanford University John S. Knight Fellow.

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