Flathead County

Newly Designed Bigfork Library Set to Open Next Month

The current Bigfork branch of the Flathead County Library will close on July 6 while staff move to newly renovated building on Bridge Street

By Micah Drew
ImagineIF Bigfork Library location on Bridge Street in Bigfork, pictured July 3, 2024. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

The Bigfork branch of the Flathead County Library, currently housed within the Bigfork Art and Cultural Center (BACC), will close on July 6 as staff move into the new building on Bridge Street, set to open to the public in early August.

Six years after the ImagineIf Library Foundation, the fundraising partner for the library system, purchased the 6,000-square-foot building behind Bethany Lutheran Church, renovations are wrapping up, books are finding homes on the shelves and the new library is officially set to join the county library system.

“This is the first truly purpose-built library in the Flathead County system, meaning it was actually built as a library. Not as an art museum, not as a post office, not an additional room at City hall,” ImagineIF Foundation Executive Director Sara Busse told the board at their June 17 meeting. “I think everybody in the community will get to experience that when they walk in. We’re thrilled to have that open to the public.”

The prior location of the library branch, tucked inside the BACC on Electric Avenue, lacked parking, took up just 1,440 square feet and was not compliant with the American with Disabilities Act. The new building will allow librarians to triple the library’s in-house collection and serve as a community hub with meeting rooms, dedicated children and youth activity areas, and an outdoor amphitheater-style patio.

Since a groundbreaking ceremony was held last October, Montana-based design firm Cushing Terrell has transformed the former church recreation hall into a “rich mix of spaces,” according to the firm.

Jessica Murray led interior design and architecture for the project team and said she drew her concepts from the natural landscape around Bigfork. She leaned into bridges as a metaphor and pulled in the blue and green colors to tie together the lake and the surrounding forest.

“Libraries have incredible potential to cultivate community impact and become a bridge to education, a bridge to combating loneliness, a bridge to technology,” she said. “Plus, you have to actually cross a bridge from Bigfork to get to the library so I took that idea and looked for ways to express it architecturally.”

Inside the library, a series of wooden beams span the ceiling, bringing the metaphor into a vibrant, modern space full of natural light. Slotted windows let sunlight in from above to reflect off of an abstract, iridescent river installation hanging from the ceiling. A series of circular and quadrilaterally shaped windows in the children’s area are recessed to allow kids to climb in with their latest literary finds. 

An interior rendering of the Bigfork Library provided by Cushing Terrell.

“I thought about what it’s like to be on a trail in the forest and come to a bridge over a river — the trees open up and the light is sparkling off the water and dappling through the trees,” Murray said. “I wanted to explore that idea of light and shadow and playfulness. I think it plays into a library’s desire for lifelong learning and excitement.”

The Bigfork library was also named a Design for Freedom Pilot Project, a partnership between Cushing Terrell and the Grace Farms Foundation that strives to increase awareness of forced and child labor in the building materials supply chain. 

To earn recognition as one of only five Design for Freedom pilot projects launched in the U.S. this year, Cushing Terrell staff researched the supply chain of several products utilized in the renovation, collecting documentation of humanitarian policies, ethical practices and transparency from obtaining raw materials through their installation in Bigfork. 

“There’s been a long time disconnect along supply chains in the construction world and we at Cushing Terrell wanted to understand the impacts of the products we’re using in our design. You can look at a product’s carbon footprint, the recycling of materials, minimizing chemical use — this is the next step, doing as much due diligence as possible to ensure an ethical supply chain,” Murray said. “It’s really exciting to be able to highlight a small, rural project and draw the connection that humanitarian crises affect building projects anywhere.”

Murray said designing the Bigfork Library was a passion project for herself, connecting back to her own memories of bringing her kids to the Kalispell library. 

“I know what a special place libraries are for people of all ages. It’s where my kids first experienced books, where I met my first friends as a new mom in the library,” Murray said. “As humans, we need places that are beautiful and inspiring as well as safe and healthy to live, work and play with.”

A sold-out fundraiser to “fill the shelves” will offer patrons a first look at the new building that is slated to open to the public on August 6. The branch’s hours will be 10 a.m. – 6 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, and from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. on Saturdays. The branch will be closed on Sundays and Mondays.

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