Li­brary sets timetable for de­ci­sion

Rul­ing on land ex­pected soon

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - NORTHWEST ARKANSAS - STACY RYBURN

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

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