story and photos by Jeannie Smith, special to The City Wire
MOUNTAINBURG — A sign marking the future home of the new Mountainburg Public Library on U.S. 71 is deceptively simple given the bold vision for the project.
The ambitious plan to move the library from its humble home in a 2,400-square-foot garage owned by the U.S. Forestry Commission to a larger, more esthetically pleasing building was initiated by Eva White, director of the Crawford County Library System and Mountainburg librarian Sue Yount. And the two have enlisted award-winning architect Jeffrey Scherer to help.
Scherer, a founding principal of the acclaimed architectural firm MS&R in Minneapolis designed the Fayetteville Public Library, the first building in Arkansas to be registered with the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program. Fayetteville’s library was certified silver, just one step below the highest platinum status.
Scherer, an Arkansas native, also designed the the building that houses KUAF-FM, 91.3, across from the Fayetteville library, as well as the Van Buren Public Library.
He was in the area last month for a public meeting about the Mountainburg library project and offered some sound advice for design and fundraising. The meeting’s small but enthusiastic crowd exchanged ideas with the architect, and in the end, he recommended a 4,000-square-foot facility nestled in the surrounding hills. The Crawford County Library System bought a 5-acre tract on the south side of town over a year ago with plans for the new library to go there.
Now weeks after the meeting in Mountainburg, Scherer’s plans are progressing. He said he hopes to have a first draft of design sketches ready for a second public meeting sometime this summer. The design will incorporate native stone and brick, elements meant to enhance its natural surroundings.
However, he left library officials with plenty to do before he comes back.
“The plan is to get volunteers to donate time, materials and money for a pre-engineered building that alone will provide the space needed,” Scherer said. “Then I will design a building [that] provides the spirit supporters envision.”
Scherer suggested several ways the community could immediately start raising funds, from penny drives in the schools to fundraisers for select donors in the community and a possible $1-per-patron donation drive.
All it took was an email to get Scherer to help finish the Van Buren library.
“He has been so good to us,” said White director of the library system. “I mean, we simply emailed him for help the first time, he said yes, then came down to Arkansas and we got that project completed.
“This time we wanted him to start at the beginning and give us the expertise to do it right from day one,” she continued. “He has done projects all over the world but not all of them are big ones. He has done small projects and we knew he would understand how important the library is to people in this area.”
Some 1,800 individuals hold Mountainburg Public Library cards, compared to 682 Mountainburg residents counted during the 2000 U.S. Census. The facility is more than a library, it’s a community center, as well.
“We have a lot of people that we serve, it's not just Mountainburg,” said Yount, the librarian. “All these mountains are full of people from Alma to Winslow and Winchester and we do a lot of business. Sometimes we have this room full, people on the laptops, kids on the Wii and people looking through the stacks. It gets crowded.
“People drive 11 and 12 miles to get here, and some of them drive over rough roads, so we try to help them out as much as we can. A lot of times they will call ahead and reserve a spot on the computer.”
The cost to erect a new library in Mountainburg has yet to be determined, but those involved believe it will happen.
Said White: “We are not sure how to fund this yet, but we are determined. I know it is something that the people in Mountainburg need and so we will find a way.”
In addition to the branches in Van Buren and Mountainburg, the Crawford County Library System also operates facilities in Cedarville, Mulberry and Alma.