Library sets timetable for decision
Ruling on land expected soon
FAYETTEVILLE — The Library Board set a 60-day window to make a decision on the library’s expansion but an Arkansas Supreme Court opinion on the legal dispute over the land behind the building could come soon.
The board approved Monday waiting 60 days for an opinion from the court before deciding whether to expand the library upward at its current site or stay with the intended plan to expand south. The board will revisit the decision if the court
doesn’t rule by the end of April.
The question is if the library can double its size by moving onto the adjacent City Hospital land to the south. The court will decide whether to clear the sale of the land from Washington Regional Medical Center to the library.
Heirs of the Stone family, who donated the land to the city a century ago with the intent it be used for a hospital, have fought the sale to the library. Lower courts have ruled in the library’s favor.
Library Executive Director David Johnson said a Supreme Court decision could come as soon as Thursday. The case was submitted Feb. 16.
“We’re going to wait to abandon the City Hospital as a location for expansion for another 60 days to give the Supreme Court time,” Johnson said, adding the board could vote to wait another 60 days if that time frame passes.
The board can’t keep kicking the item down forever, though.
Fayetteville voters on Aug. 9 approved a millage increase to pay for $26.5 million of the library’s $49 million proposed expansion. The city won’t issue the bonds until either the state Supreme Court or the library board makes a decision.
However, if bond value goes down the library wouldn’t make all of the money it needs, Johnson said. It also needs to raise about $23 million in donations.
Architects have already drawn plans to expand to the City Hospital land. If the court rules in the Stone family’s favor, one plan would be to expand by adding floors to the building.
Johnson said it’d be possible to continue with the southward expansion plan on about 2 acres in question. An old church building behind the library would have to be demolished but the City Hospital building conceivably could stay there.
The library already has a $2 million contract with Washington Regional to buy the property. If the state Supreme Court rules in the library’s favor it will have 30 days to sign the title and become owners of the land.
If the library owns all 4 acres it will have to request proposals and secure contracts for asbestos remediation and demolition of the old City Hospital building. That process could take up to six months, said Stephen Davis, the library’s accounting manager.
The library would bear responsibility for security of the building during that time, including making sure the windows and doors are boarded up, there’s no mold and it’s generally safe to be around, Johnson said.
If all goes according to plan, the library hopes to break ground on its expansion by November, Johnson said.
Planners hope to have the expansion complete by 2021. Added features include a two- story children’s area, a roof garden, expanded genealogy area, a malleable multi-purpose room for speakers and events, additional parking and a sustainability overhaul.
No matter the Arkansas Supreme Court’s decision, the library will have options available, Johnson said. Library staff and Fayetteville residents have been waiting more than four years for a way to expand, he said.
“This community’s deserving of a decision,” Johnson said. “It’s a negligence of justice to not let us know what to do with this initiative.”
“This community’s deserving of a decision.”
— David Johnson, Library executive director