Construction on new Bigfork library makes strides toward summer opening

Mar. 17—Monica Pastor used to walk herself down to storytime at the Bigfork library back when she was a kid running around the village in the 1980s.

"At the time, Bigfork was lovely and fine, but tiny," Pastor said. "The library was a sort of portal to other places and other things — where you could go to hear about different worlds."

The library made a big impression on Pastor and her sister Alicia, who went on to become an elementary school teacher, reading specialist and advocate for early childhood literacy. Pastor, an artist involved in many community projects, has art and jewelry galleries in Bigfork and Whitefish, and taught art history for 10 years at Flathead Valley Community College.

She is the director of her family's charitable organization, the AGL Foundation. When she and her sister were approached by the ImagineIF Library Foundation to consider donating toward its effort of giving Bigfork a new library, it was an easy decision, Pastor said.

The AGL Foundation's donation of $300,000 is one of many that have gone toward the renovation of a building that will become the new Bigfork branch of Flathead County Libraries — which has been in the works for nearly a decade. Its capital campaign was paused during the pandemic and officially relaunched in the summer of 2023. Construction began on the building in the fall, and ImagineIF Library Foundation Director Sara Busse said an opening is set for sometime this summer.

"[The support of the Pastor family] meant so much to the ImagineIF Library Foundation, and obviously to these folks who had been working on it for so long, to really have people that believed in it and that it was going to happen," Busse said. "That was a pivotal gift in changing and making us realize this is happening."

ON A sunny March afternoon, Monica Pastor and her parents, Patti and Joe Pastor, received a tour of the progress made on the building by Busse, and Al Logan and Andrea Goff, co-chairs of the foundation's capital campaign committee. As Martel Construction crews worked on the interior, the family enjoyed a sneak peek of what will become the children's area, which was funded by their donation.

The children's section has building block-shaped windows, low enough to the ground and with large enough sills for kids to sit and read. It also includes short shelving that allows children to browse for books on their level while giving grownups and library staff the benefit of seeing the entire section.

It also has plenty of room for activities like storytime, a program that will likely see a growth in attendees after the renovated building opens. The current Bigfork library is located inside the Bigfork Art and Cultural Center building and its small size often limits attendance.

The new building will offer six times the space of the current location, allowing for $70,000 worth of new books, CDs, movies and other materials. It will include a teen zone, a makerspace and a community meeting room, as well as the space to offer more events and programming.

Busse said when the community was asked what they'd like to see in the new library, the meeting room was at the top of the list.

"The other aspect of the project that was important to us, besides the really obvious benefits of a library, is the notion of a space for the community to gather, which we feel like is really lacking here," Monica Pastor said.

Another area of note is the outdoor amphitheater that will be built behind the library. Busse said there will be opportunities for programming to take place outside, particularly for kids in the summertime.

Renderings also show tables outdoors in front of the library, giving patrons places to chat, work or read.

Construction crews recently have been putting up drywall. After that's complete, they'll spray the acoustic ceiling and start painting.

"All of those high wooden beams that you see running overhead will be covered in plastic. So, it's gonna get a little messy for the next couple of weeks," Logan said.

Busse said she's looking forward to when they'll be able to put in the large picture windows that will transform the front of the building. She said she knew once construction started it would move pretty quickly because they were just renovating the space, as opposed to a full build.

"It is all inside for the most part and so they've been able to keep working, and I just have to give a huge shout out to Martel for being an amazing partner on this, they are always on schedule and just doing a fabulous job ... And the same for Cushing Terrell, our architects, they have just been awesome to work with," Busse said.

The paint colors will follow a 'lake theme,' Busse said, with teals and greens that are reminiscent of nearby Flathead Lake, as well as touches of Flathead County Libraries' orange branding.

And the library system's relationship with the Bigfork Art and Cultural Center could continue. Busse said library staff plan to look for future opportunities to collaborate.

Logan and Goff were elated to share updates on the project. It's been a long road, and Goff said she gets emotional thinking about the new library being open to the community. She envisions people walking into the space and coming up with ideas for utilizing it.

"There's probably a lot of people that thought this was never going to happen. And, you know, if you thought that about everything in the world, there would never be any progress, nothing would ever happen," Goff said. "I think this is also a testament to people believing in things that are really good for people."

THERE HAVE been road bumps throughout the course of the project aside from Covid-19. The ImagineIF Library Foundation purchased the Bethany Lutheran Ark Building for $475,000 in 2018 with hopes of gifting it to the county after renovations were complete. But Flathead County commissioners were hesitant to accept the building, sowing doubts that the project would move forward.

But under state law, library boards have the power to acquire property in the name of the county. After several meetings with foundation and ImagineIF officials, commissioners gave their blessing for a transfer agreement that was voted on and passed by the ImagineIF Board of Trustees in June 2022.

Pastor said her family wanted to look beyond the project's previous ups-and-downs and give the community the library it deserves. Her grandmother gave to projects that supported medical research and medical facilities, and while her family still supports many of those causes, the current iteration of the AGL Foundation has a focus on conservation, education and recreation, all connected to "creating and preserving community."

She said giving to the Bigfork Library Capital Campaign fell into that education category, and with her family's interest in literacy and reading, it was a natural fit.

"I'm excited about the makerspace idea, all those things that really just aren't as accessible here ... There aren't as many things for kids to do here like there are in other communities. So it's exciting to be able to see this as a new center for people to be able to come up with new ideas and events," Pastor said.

Busse said in addition to continuing work on the new building, the ImagineIF Library Foundation is gearing up for National Library Week in April and National Library Giving Day which is on April 3.

Visit www.imagineiflibraryfoundation.org/newbigforklibrary to learn more about the Bigfork Library Project.

Reporter Taylor Inman can be reached at 406-758-4433 or by emailing tinman@dailyinterlake.com.

Joe, Patti and Monica Pastor stand in front of what will become the children's section in the new Bigfork library building. (Taylor Inman/Daily Inter Lake)

What will become the community meeting room can be seen on the left. Toward the back of the room will be the makerspace area. (Taylor Inman/Daily Inter Lake)

The entrance of the new Bigfork library, still under renovation and expected to open to the public sometime this summer. (Taylor Inman/Daily Inter Lake)

The children's area will encompass the right side of the building. Toward the back of the room, the windows are already in place. (Taylor Inman/Daily Inter Lake)

Joe, Patti and Monica Pastor of the AGL Foundation stand in front of the new Bigfork library building, which is under renovation and expected to open sometime this summer. (Taylor Inman/Daily Inter Lake)

Renderings for the new Bigfork library show the circulation desk positioned in front of the community meeting room. Behind it, part of the makerspace area is visible. (photo provided)

Renderings for the right side of the building show the children's area of the new library. (photo provided)

Renderings of the new makerspace area. (photo provided)

A rendering shows the outdoor amphitheater that will be built behind the library. (photo provided)

Another rendering of the backside of the new library, this time looking from in front of the children's area windows toward the amphitheater. (photo provided)

A rendering of the entrance to the new Bigfork library. (photo provided)

A rendering of the teen zone, which will be on the left side of the room as patrons walk out of the backdoor of the new library. (photo provided)

Rendering of a lounge area that will be in front of the community meeting room. (photo provided)

A rendering of a donor wall and the location of the bathrooms, toward the left front side of the building. (photo provided)