By this point, most Boiseans know that the proposed new main library is going to be expensive. And there is no real concept of a final price, with some throwing out that the budget is $85 million and others saying the project would actually have a $104 million price tag.

However, just looking at the overall cost does not give a complete sense of just how pricey this taxpayer-funded building would be. If the new library is constructed, it will cost more per square foot than the construction of a hospital in some of the most expensive cities for construction in the United States.

If the original $85 million price tag for the Boise library were correct, and it was constructed to the original plan of 150,000 square feet, then the price per square foot for this library would be $566.

But the price is likely to be higher.

We already know that the project is expected to be over-budget due to a costly design, relocation costs for The Cabin, and more. This has caused the construction of the event center on the project site to be postponed, in order to bring the cost back toward the original estimate. This means, for the same price, less square footage will be constructed, which brings up the cost—to $644 per square foot.

But this may not even be the real cost.

I know I’ve already given you two estimates for the price per square foot of this project, but these are both estimates that assume the overall price tag for the project includes both the design and construction of the library. But, at a recent city council meeting, Okland, the construction contractor hired for the library, submitted a project summary that prices the cost of construction between $85-103 million—again, just for library construction. Tack on the more than $11 million paid to the architect to design the library, and the price per square foot increases dramatically—ranging between $727 to $863, depending on the total square footage.

And the price could grow still higher when you consider the cost of parking.

The basic point of all the estimates I just gave you is this: All of the above figures exceed the cost per square foot of building hospitals in cities like Las Vegas, Denver, Phoenix, Seattle, and Portland. Plus, the $644 estimate meets or exceeds the price of constructing hospitals in even more expensive cities, like Washington DC. And the high estimate of $863 exceeds even the most expensive city to construct a hospital in the entire nation—Honolulu.

Because the price tag for the proposed new Boise library exceeds the cost for hospitals in places like the nation’s capital, you can imagine that it far exceeds the cost of building such hospitals in the Treasure Valley.

In 2017, Saint Alphonsus opened a new main Nampa campus at I-84 and Garrity Boulevard. The cost per square foot for this $80 million hospital was $333. And Saint Al’s is in the midst of constructing another hospital—a rehabilitation hospital in Boise—with a per-square-foot price that is even lower, at $312.

Both these hospitals cost at least half as much per square foot as the library will, if it is constructed. And this is just the price for the actual buildings and does not include the fillings, like furniture, books, medical equipment, for either type of structure.

The high square-footage cost is a major red flag for the library project. Whether or not you believe in the healing power of books, there is a pretty significant distinction between which you would expect to be more expensive—a hospital or a library—and it is not the library.

This red flag is a major reason concerned Boiseans are asking for a public vote on the project. If the price tag is this high, residents deserve a vote, to let city officials know if the people are willing to fund this very pricey project.

If you live in Boise and are concerned about this project, please join our concerned residents Facebook group for updates.