Fayetteville Public Library officials agreed last week to swing for the fences in planning for a future expansion of the 10-year-old facility.
The library’s Board of Trustees voted unanimously to move forward with the largest of several proposed expansion plans, approving a project that would add some 80,000 square feet to the facility, nearly doubling the size of the library.
The estimated $50 million project would expand the library from a single-building facility to a full-on campus stretching south across West Rock Street and onto the recently acquired City Hospital property.
Aside from adding room for more print and audiovisual materials, highlights of the project include a 750-seat multipurpose space that could be used as a community convention center or auditorium, and several public “maker spaces” stocked with 3D printers, video editing bays, and music recording studios.
“Go for broke”
With no detailed plan on how to pay for the project, the board considered several scaled-back expansion plans as outlined in an all-day meeting last month at the Mount Sequoyah Retreat and Conference Center.
But Jim Blair, a major donor for the current library, and Jeffrey Scherer, an architect who designed the building, urged board members to keep in mind how quickly the original facility filled up.
“At first blush, the numbers might scare you,” said Blair. “But I have witnessed a phenomenon that I think we need to get past, and that is every time we have done something…we have underbuilt.”
Blair pointed to the Walton Arts Center’s need for a new auditorium that’s double the size of Baum Walker Hall on Dickson Street.
“They wouldn’t need to build a new arts center in Benton County if we had built what we should’ve built from the beginning,” he said.
He also mentioned Interstate 540 (now I-49), which he said exceeded 10-year traffic projections the day it opened.
“I know it’s scary, and I know the tendency is going to be to say, ‘All this is too much, and we can leave out some things and finish them in the future,’” Blair said. “But I hope you don’t do that. I hope you go for broke. I hope you go for a library that a town of 120,000 people is going to need.”
The future is now
Board members agreed with Blair, and defended the need for non-traditional library amenities like the large convention/auditorium space, which they anticipate receiving some pushback about from donors or voters.
“We’re thinking about the year 2030,” said Maylon Rice, board treasurer. “This is a library for the future. Not the library of today or the library of yesterday.”
Of course, the library is already known for scheduling popular speakers that fill up quickly, including a 2007 visit from chef Anthony Bourdain that required shelves and books to be moved to accommodate guests, and a recent beer-making demonstration that attracted 75 people to the small, outdoor garden area behind the building.
“I feel like what we’re talking about here is not necessarily changing how the library is being used,” said Brenda Boudreaux, another board member. “It’s just expanding.”
As ambitious as the project sounds, library executive director David Johnson said the new facilities would still serve the same purpose as libraries of the past.
“It’s all about connecting people with information,” Johnson said.
“Exactly,” said Scherer, who added that it’s the connection method that has evolved to include not just ink on paper, but also digital materials, internet access, speakers, tutors, and even hands-on demonstrations.
“It’s simply “a redefinition” of how people get information and how they use that information to better their life skills, their education, their parenting and their civic duties,” said Scherer.
All and more?
Board member Hershey Garner made the motion to approve the largest plan, but said he’d like to keep open the option for an even larger expansion, considering the proposal only calls for using about half of the City Hospital property.
“If, over the next six months, we determine we need another 200 seats in our multipurpose room or additional parking, that can be added,” said Garner.
Board president Kim Agee agreed.
“We’re the stewards of this fantastic organization, of this crown jewel of our city,” said Agee. “I think we owe the citizens of Fayetteville the best library we can build.”
Johnson said residents can expect another round of public input meetings later this summer. As far as funding goes, he said the board would likely seek money from private donations and a possible millage or sales tax that voters may be asked to approve in an August 2015 bond election.