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Old Boise Carnegie Library to become a Vandal, thanks to Idaho Legislature

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Posted at 2:51 PM, May 15, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-15 16:51:33-04

This article was originally written by John Sowell for the Idaho Statesman.

The state of Idaho is poised to buy the historic Carnegie Library near Boise High School and rent it out to the University of Idaho Law school for study and event space.

On Wednesday, both the Idaho House and Senate passed House Bill 408, which authorizes $2.1 million to buy the 117-year-old building from Shawn Swanby, CEO of Ednetics, a North Idaho tech firm.

While the Legislature approved the transfer of $7 million to the Permanent Building Fund for the purchase and renovation of the library, it approved only $200,000 for renovation costs. The Legislature would have to approve any further spending.

Swanby, a University of Idaho graduate, bought the building at 815 W. Washington St. in 2019 with plans to renovate it. The Carnegie Library, listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1974, had sat vacant for 18 months before Swanby bought it, after a law firm moved out.

The two-story neoclassical building at 815 W. Washington St. served as the city’s library for nearly 70 years. That use ended in 1973, when the library moved to a former warehouse at 715 S. Capitol Blvd. that it still occupies.

When the library was dedicated on May 3, 1905, the Idaho Statesman described it as marking an “epoch in the city’s history.”

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The dedication of the Boise Carnegie Library in May 1905 was heralded by the Idaho Statesman. Judge James Ailshie of the Idaho Supreme Court praised the women of the Columbian Club, which spearheaded the drive to build the library. “The women whose vigilance and industry have so fashioned circumstances and moulded sentiment as to make posible this event and the realizations of this day are to be congratulated; yes, thrice congratulated, upon their splendid achievement,” Alshie said.

“This library is a light in the window of Idaho toward which all her children may turn,” Judge C.C. Goodwin, a Salt Lake City resident who spent 21 years as editor of the Salt Lake City Tribune, said at the dedication ceremony.

The bill, introduced on Wednesday, sailed through the Legislature. It passed that day 46-19 in the House and 26-1 in the Senate. It was sent to Gov. Brad Little on Thursday. He has not indicated whether he will sign the bill.

The bill sought $7 million from the Pernament Building Fund for the purchase and renovations. The committee and the House and Senate agreed to move the money into the the Department of Administration’s budget, but for now only agreed

Sen. Jeff Agenbroad, R-Nampa, questioned the urgency of the request. He wondered whether Swanby planned to sell the building to another entity if the state didn’t act quickly.

“This one is coming at us pretty fast,” Agenbroad said.

Jill Randolph, a senior legislative budget and policy analyst, told the committee that Swanby wished to sell the building in the coming months. And Keith Reynolds, director of the Department of Administration, said Swanby was willing to sell the building at the price he bought it for and donate the $1 million worth of renovations completed so far.

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Boise developer Ken Howell, right, talks with Christopher Huntley, owner of Huntley Law Firm, which occupied the historic Carnegie Public Library building before it was sold in 2019.

Although the purchase of the Carnegie Library by the state hadn’t been publicly disclosed before the committee meeting, it had been discussed for many months, Alex Adams, administrator of the Idaho Division of Financial Management, said.

“It has been somewhat on our radar for a number of years,” Reynolds said. “The risk of passing on any real estate is that it may not be available nine months from now if we pass today.”

Rep. Ron Nate, R-Rexburg, voted against the committee motion to recommend buying the building. He said the state already has enough space for events. The discussion indicated that only the University of Idaho would have use of the space.

The university moved its Boise law school (the main law school campus is in Moscow) into the old Ada County Courthouse in 2015. The building is now known as the Idaho Law and Justice Learning Center.

The building was vacated by Ada County in 2002, then used by the Idaho Legislature and other state government offices when they needed temporary space.

A university spokesperson could not answer why the law school needs the additional space at the Carnegie building. She was unsuccessful Friday in finding someone else to answer the question.

It’s unclear whether Little plans to sign the bill. A request for comment from his office was not immediately returned Friday.

A message to Swanby was also not returned.

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Boise developer Ken Howell, right, talks with Christopher Huntley, owner of Huntley Law Firm, which occupied the historic Carnegie Public Library building before it was sold in 2019.