Library executive director seeks hospital property for expansion

City Hospital is located at 221 S. School Ave., just south of the Fayetteville Public Library.

Photo: Todd Gill, Flyer staff

The Fayetteville Public Library’s top executive wants to build an IMAX theater on the old City Hospital property in downtown Fayetteville.

David Johnson, the library’s new executive director, also wants a performance hall that could hold up to 500 people for visiting authors and other performances. He wants to build rooms stocked with 3D printers, video editing software, and music studio equipment for the public to use. He also wants to add additional meeting rooms for conventions, and community gatherings.

David Johnson looks south toward the Fayetteville City Hospital property adjacent to the Fayetteville Public Library.

Staff photo

As ambitious as it may sound, after just eight years in one of the most state-of-the-art library facilities in the country, Johnson is already looking to expand.

“We’re the envy of libraries throughout the entire state,” said Johnson in a July interview. “But we’re filling this library up pretty quickly. We’re running out of room for our collections. Our labs are full from the time we open until the time we close.

“We’ve got to grow, whether it’s in this footprint, or to see if we can acquire this City Hospital property next door.”

The building is owned by Washington Regional Medical Center, who acquired the property from the City of Fayetteville in exchange for land needed to construct a roundabout near Millsap Road earlier this year. The hospital recently announced they would close the nursing home that has been operating in the building by mid-September.

Johnson said he’s been in preliminary talks with Washington Regional officials about the possibility of purchasing the property, and that those talks have been encouraging.

“I think we owe it to this community to at least explore the possibility from every angle,” he said. “I’m approaching this with a bit of urgency. If it’s not now, it could be 50 years before that property becomes available again, if ever.”

Fayetteville Public Library, 401 W. Mountain Street

Staff photo

The deed associated with property has some stipulations attached to it. The Stone family, who donated the original piece of land to the city, designated that the land be used by a hospital.

Fayetteville City Attorney Kit Williams said now that the property belongs to Washington Regional, it would be allowable under the deed for them to sell the property and use the proceeds for betterment of the hospital.

“When the city was granted the property as trustee, it had to be used for hospital purposes,” Williams said. “But the Stone family recognized that the property might one day become obsolete.

“If they (hospital officials) decided to sell it, the proceeds would go to Washington Regional, and that is something that I believe would satisfy the requirements.”

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Map: Flyer staff

Another barrier to achieving Johnson’s dreams for the library is cost, a factor which he recognizes could be a challenge, but not impossible to overcome.

“In this community, historically, if a vision has been expressed in such a way that they can believe in it, see it, they always step up,” he said. “Whether that means a tiny, incremental millage increase, or through donations and gifts, this city has always believed in the vision of the library.”

Johnson said when thinking about where the library is going to be in 10 to 15 years, he sees a trend. “You see libraries becoming more of a community center where people can come and host a meeting, give a presentation,” he said. “It’s a place that is full of UA students and Fayetteville High School students studying, with free wi-fi, and free access to information.”

Johnson credited his predecessor Louise Schaper, the executive director from 1997-2009 who led the library from its former home on Dickson Street into the current 90,000-square-foot LEED Silver-certified facility, for setting the bar high for continued innovation.

“Louise had a vision of a library that was of the highest quality in the land,” he said. “That’s what we’re trying to maintain.”