Renovation and expansion projects at the Fayetteville Public Library and David W. Mullins Library are on budget and progressing as scheduled, according to library officials.
David Johnson, executive director of the Fayetteville Public Library, said the 75,000 square-foot addition to the library’s existing Blair building is on track to be completed by late August. This timeline will allow library staff to move furnishings and materials into the new wing before the grand opening Oct. 9, which is on the 16th anniversary of the Blair building’s opening.
The $50 million dollar project, which is funded by private donations and a tax increase approved by voters in 2016, has been in the works since 2012, Johnson said.
Johnson said the expansion is necessary because the population of Northwest Arkansas is growing rapidly and the library is being used often, with an average of 185 people visiting the library each hour.
In 2019, an average of 39.1 people moved to NWA each day, according to the Northwest Arkansas Council.
The library extension, which will connect to the Blair building via a spiral staircase, will feature areas dedicated to hands-on activities. Local artists will display their works in a gallery, while dance teachers and exercise instructors will teach classes in the “movement room.”
The “innovation center” will include a music recording studio, video production and editing equipment and other resources available for the public’s creative use.
A new youth library double the size of the existing one will include an expanded collection of materials and interactive reading and learning spaces. Cooking lessons will be held in a teaching kitchen for people of all ages, including classes for Fayetteville High School students taught by Northwest Arkansas Community College instructors.
Johnson said he is especially excited for future events at the 700-seat multipurpose center that will occupy much of the new library wing. The center, with a 24-by-60 foot stage and attached lobby, will be the setting for everything from live music and speaking events to robotics tournaments and conventions, Johnson said.
Starting in winter 2020, TheatreSquared will annually perform its adaptation of “A Christmas Carol” in the multipurpose center, Johnson said.
In the digital age, the meaning of literacy has expanded to mean more than being able to read, write, and do arithmetic, Johnson said. The new and improved Fayetteville Public Library will be a place for everyone, regardless of demographic background, to become more literate, he said.
“We’re no longer just sort of a warehouse of books,” Johnson said. “We’re a place for people to come and connect, come and collaborate, have access to knowledge in a wide variety of formats.”
Renovations to Mullins Library floors three and four are also progressing on schedule and on budget, with construction due to be completed in summer 2021, Kelsey Lovewell, director of communications for University Libraries, said in an email.
Construction workers are currently completing work on the fourth floor, and the asbestos removal and demolition work on both floors should be completed by April 30, Lovewell said. The $23 million remodel will begin after the existing interior is demolished.
In order to compensate for lost seating while the top two floors are closed for construction, library officials added 171 seats to the first two floors in December, bringing the total on those floors from 895 to 1,066, Lovewell said.
“I think the good libraries listen to their communities,” Johnson said. “(They) are aware of the issues and challenges, and they respond.”