Meyer, Scherer & Rockcastle
Residents this week are getting their first look at what an expanded public library might look like near downtown Fayetteville.
Library officials held public input sessions on Wednesday and Thursday to discuss plans and answer questions about the design and funding of the project. A third input session is scheduled for 8 a.m. Friday (July 8).
About $22.8 million of the $49.3 million needed is expected to be raised through donations. Officials are hoping to gather another $26.5 million from a tax hike that voters will decide on next month.
David Johnson, the library’s executive director, said Thursday expansion is not about adding more shelves for books.
Johnson said the old model of what a library should be is dead, and that the Fayetteville facility must adapt to a changing dynamic that is affecting libraries all over the country.
For decades, Johnson said, libraries have had a singular purpose built around providing stacks of materials for people to check out and then return.
“It was more of a consumption model,” he said. “But over time, we’ve now moved into a model that reflects more of libraries being a multi-purpose facility.”
Connecting people to knowledge, he said, has expanded far past just putting books into people’s hands.
Johnson said the Fayetteville Public Library sees about 185 visitors per hour, who are all there for a variety of activities, ranging from quiet reading, to attending packed-house guest speakers, to yoga classes and hands-on robotics training.
“Our spaces can no longer accommodate the demand we’re experiencing on a day-to-day basis,” he said.
What to expect
Architect Jack Poling of Minneapolis-based Meyer, Scherer & Rockcastle showed renderings his company envisions for the proposed expansion, and outlined many features that should be considered if the project advances to the design stage.
Poling said the key to expanding a library today is finding a balance between adapting to the current demands of the community while also planning for the future.
The Fayetteville library, which opened in 2004, was designed to be a 20-year building, but officials have said many times that it has already reached its capacity in almost every measure.
Statistics provided Wednesday show that the library has seen a 44 percent increase in circulation – almost half of which is youth services – since it opened in 2004. Poling said there were 619,000 visits to the library in 2015, and that number is expected to be higher this year.
The city’s population, which was at about 64,000 when the current building opened, has increased to over 80,000 people and is expected to hit 115,000 by 2030.
Poling said the numbers alone – which show what could be a doubling of the city’s residents in the coming years – are a compelling enough reason for why an expansion is needed.
Early concepts show the addition of about 80,000 square feet of space and 115 parking spaces, nearly doubling the size of the current library and its parking capacity.
The new facilities would extend south across Rock Street, which would be closed between School and West avenues. The southern extension would include a two-story youth services division, a massive multipurpose area, a rooftop garden, and an open-air plaza that could host concerts and outdoor community events.
Use of the current facility’s genealogy collection, Poling said, has increased by almost 60 percent in recent years, so a dedicated genealogy and local history department would likely be incorporated into the plan.
Because of the elevation of the property and the envisioned design of the new buildings, the views of the mountains to the south would remain intact, Poling said, adding that the new facility will build upon the current library’s focus on energy efficiency.
Library officials hope to utilize the City Hospital property across the street as part of the planned expansion. The library has been working to finalize its purchase of the land from Washington Regional Medical Center, but that deal has been held up in court since descendants of the donors of the land first challenged the ownership in the Arkansas Court of Appeals and state Supreme Court. An appeal that would complete the $2 million sale has twice passed the courts, but the deal could remain tied up if the challengers continue their battle.
If the millage increase is approved and the land purchase is cleared by the courts, Poling said a series of public meetings would be held starting in September to help drive the final designs of the project. He said documentation and bidding would begin in 2017, with construction following in 2018. If all goes according to schedule, Poling said the new facility could be open by 2021.
The special election
Fayetteville voters will go to the polls on Aug. 9 to decide whether to increase property taxes to help fund the library expansion (UPDATE: The measure passed 59% to 41%). The election was called by the City Council in May after petitioners turned in enough signatures to trigger the vote.
If approved, the library’s current 1-mill property tax will increase to 3.7 mills.
The additional 2.7 mills would cost taxpayers an extra $54 each year for every $100,000 worth of property owned. It includes 1.2 mills for construction bonds and 1.5 mills for operating costs. Once the construction bonds are paid off, the tax would be lowered to 2.5 mills.
To learn more about the library’s plans and vision for expansion, visit faylib.org/expansion.
For those who can’t make it to the final public input session this week, consider watching the archived video presentations available at the library’s Livestream portal.
A funding microsite has also been established at funding.faylib.org that includes financial information related to the library’s budget and future funding options.