The sloping roof of the new Ballard Library branch is intended to signify to passers-by that this public building is like no other. At its peak lie...

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The sloping roof of the new Ballard Library branch is intended to signify to passers-by that this public building is like no other.

At its peak lie 17 solar panels, enough to power a three-bedroom house. The roof is blanketed with 18,000 plants to provide insulation and reduce water runoff. And nine skylights illuminate the 15,000-square-foot library floor below.

This is arguably the city’s most ambitious and most distinctive new neighborhood library to date, with the building powered partly by solar energy and built partly from recycled materials.

City officials say the $10.9 million building, at 5614 22nd Ave. N.W., is one of the most environmentally friendly public buildings in the Northwest.

During the library’s grand opening yesterday, lines of visitors wrapped around the block, with people peering in windows and glass doors. It took about 30 minutes to get everyone inside. By early afternoon, more than 1,000 had visited.

Children stared at the funky tables and chairs, not sure whether it was safe to sit on furniture fabricated without bolts or nails.

The furniture components were slid into place, much like a balsa-wood airplane, said David Kunselman, capital-projects manager for the Seattle Public Library.

The carpets, glass, ceramic and ceiling tiles were made from recycled materials. The 40-foot structural beams were made of small pieces of wood glued together. And meters were attached below the windows to show how much natural light is radiating in.

The “green features” are visible because the city wanted to exemplify the Pacific Northwest’s love for the environment, said Peter Bohlin, a partner of Bohlin Cywinski Jackson, the architecture firm that designed the library.

“We saw this building as an opportunity to be a learning tool,” said Robert Miller, senior associate at the firm.

The “green roof” will be off-limits to library patrons, but the architects designed a periscope in the library to allow people to see the roof and the Olympic Mountains.

Similar to many structures in Europe, the roof has 14 types of grasses and other plants. The soil serves as a filter for storm water, cleaning it and reducing the volume of runoff.

The new library is part of a major restoration of Seattle public libraries that voters approved in 1998 with a $196.4 million bond measure. The Ballard branch is the 15th project to be completed.

City officials made this a showcase library because the Ballard branch is one of the city’s most-used public institutions.

More than 683,300 books and materials were checked out of the Ballard library last year, more than any other neighborhood library in Seattle. Broadview Library was second, with about 450,000 items circulated.

With the Ballard Neighborhood Service Center also under its sloping roof, this is the Seattle Public Library’s biggest branch. The service center is a place where residents can contest parking tickets and minor traffic offenses.

The new library replaces the branch on 24th Avenue Northwest, which will be used as a temporary storage facility and eventually will be sold.

The new building is twice the size of the old and has 66,700 books and other materials, including items relating to the local maritime and fishing industries. The new building has more computers, windows and natural light than the old library.

“It’s just more inviting,” said John McDermott, 40, who lives in the neighborhood. “With the old library, you didn’t want to sit and stay. You went in, you checked something out and you left.”

With aims to make the new building a community gathering place, city officials built a meeting room. And the front entry has a covered area with more than a dozen chairs.

“It’s a community front porch,” said branch manager Sibyl de Haan, who has worked at the Ballard branch since 1988. “It’s a place where they can gather and talk about whatever is important to them.”

Tan Vinh: 206-515-5656