The Missoula Public Library has scheduled an Aug. 1 groundbreaking for its new $36 million-plus building, even as volatile steel and aluminum markets linked to President Trump’s trade war have delayed finalizing the project’s cost.

“We’re not going to have our library not get built because of our president,” says Geoff Badenoch, a member of the library foundation board.

During a July 5 telephone news conference with U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, library director Honore Bray said the Trump administration’s steel and aluminum tariffs, enacted in March and expanded in June, were making an increasingly complicated project more expensive.

“It has been very difficult to get pricing from the contractor because of the tariffs — they’re afraid of what the pricing is going to do,” Bray said, as reported by the Missoula Current. “We think we’re going to have to go out and raise at least $500,000 more.”

The library was already forced to increase its funding goal late last year as the project budget increased from $35.7 million to $36.3 million, which Badenoch attributes to material costs and the city’s active construction scene. A property tax bond approved by voters in Nov. 2016 is funding $30 million of the total cost, with the remainder being raised privately by the library foundation.

Rather than scale back the project, the library decided to double down on fundraising — and go back to taxpayers for help. In May, the Missoula Redevelopment Authority pledged $200,000 in cash and $300,000 in future excess tax-increment revenue from the Front Street Urban Renewal District to support the project. The foundation has now raised 98 percent of its updated goal, Badenoch says.

At City Club Missoula on July 9, Badenoch and fellow committee member Janna Lundquist told the crowd that spiking steel and aluminum prices likely won’t push expenses beyond the project’s built-in contingency costs. Rather than try to fundraise to cover the increase, the library expects to be able to reduce other costs as necessary, he says.

But they don’t yet know for sure. The library’s financing agreement with Missoula County controls for cost overruns by requiring the contractor to submit a guaranteed maximum price. The library expected to have that number locked in by June 30, according to MRA meeting minutes, but the new uncertainty in the construction market is delaying Dick Anderson Construction from submitting it. Badenoch says the groundbreaking date was set with assurance from Dick Anderson that the number will be submitted for approval in time.

The construction site has sat empty since block residents were evicted and the buildings there razed in mid-2017. The library had hoped to break ground this past spring. Badenoch doesn’t foresee Trump’s trade war derailing the current timeline. “If anything, it’s just going to be a monumental nuisance,” he says.

Staff Reporter

Staff reporter Derek Brouwer joined the Indy in 2015 after year-long stints covering education at the Billings Gazette and the Helena Independent Record. He graduated from Montana State University. Follow him on Twitter: @derekwbrouwer.

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