AP NEWS

Blair donates $2M for Fayetteville library expansion

April 8, 2019
In this Monday March 25, 2019 photo, Jim Blair announces a gift of $2M for the expansion of the Fayetteville Public Library in Fayetteville, Ark. Jim Blair remembers taking home boxes full of books from the old city library and how he inadvertently acquired a collection at the age of 7 or 8. That love of knowledge follows him to this day. Nearly eight decades later, Blair has contributed a total of $5 million to the Fayetteville public library. (J.T. Wampler/The Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette via AP)

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (AP) — Jim Blair remembers taking home boxes full of books from the old city library and how he inadvertently acquired a collection at the age of 7 or 8.

That love of knowledge follows him to this day. Nearly eight decades later, Blair has contributed a total of $5 million to the Fayetteville public library.

Blair helped build the library with a $3 million donation in 2002. He recently announced another gift for the building’s 82,500-square-foot expansion, the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported.

“I went through all my piggy banks, and my estate lawyer tells me I can’t afford this,” he told an amused crowd of city officials, library administrators, staff members and the general public. “But I want to announce today that I’m going to try to lead this off by giving the library another gift of $2 million.”

The library opened in 2004. The building was named the Blair Library in honor of Jim Blair’s late wife, Diane Divers Blair; his grandmother, Bessie Motley Blair; and aunt, Mary Grace Blair.

The recent announcement was made inside the library near windows looking south over the ongoing construction of the expansion. City voters in August 2016 approved a property-tax increase and a nearly $27 million bond issue to help pay for the $49 million cost of construction.

Blair’s donation helps kick off a capital campaign to raise about $23 million to cover the rest of the cost. David Johnson, library executive director, said there’s just under $20 million left to go.

There are some big-name irons in the fire, and library officials hope Blair’s announcement will help stoke the flames, Johnson said.

“Everything’s moving in the right direction,” he said.

Blair, former general counsel for Tyson Foods, thanked voters for their generosity and made a call to extend that generosity to create a facility everyone can enjoy.

“It’s going to make a difference in your life, it’s going to make a difference in the lives of everyone in Northwest Arkansas if you give,” he said.

The goal is to have all the money in place by the time the expanded library opens in fall 2020, Johnson said. The expansion will double the size of youth services and add an innovation center and 700-seat multipurpose venue. A genealogy and local history section will be added. The library also will have more meeting, study and collaboration space. A courtyard with green space will lie outside. The library also will hold more materials.

The land the expansion is being built on was tied up in a nearly five-year-long legal battle that ended in March 2017 with a decision from the Arkansas Supreme Court. Justices upheld a lower-court decision identifying Washington Regional Medical Center as the land’s rightful owner at the time. Washington Regional was under contract to sell the land to the library for $2 million, and did so shortly thereafter.

Heirs of the Stone Family who donated the land to the city a century ago had sued, saying the land was intended as a gift. The property once served as home to the old City Hospital, which was demolished last year to make way for the expansion.

Ann Henry, for whom the library’s boardroom is named, said she has known Blair and his family for more than 60 years. The women in his life were always important, but perhaps early on the most important figure to Blair was the librarian who allowed him to take whatever books he wanted, she said.

“That woman was an inspirational person to him, and he never forgot where he came from,” Henry said.

Blair said no matter the changes in technology, the pursuit of knowledge stays the same. The expanded library will offer far more than books on a shelf, providing resources for generations to come, he said.

“Who doesn’t sit around sometimes and dream about things they’d like to do, could do, might do?” Blair said. “I think kids will do that. It will expand their horizons.”

Later in the day, the library’s board agreed on an amount not to exceed $20,100,000 in bond money for subcontractor work to build the shell structure of the expansion. The amount falls within initial project estimates of $18 million to $21 million, Johnson said. The work includes steel, concrete, mechanical, electrical and plumbing.

Concrete and steel estimates came in lower than project managers thought, Johnson said.

“We’re on time and on budget with a full scope,” he said.

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Information from: Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, http://www.nwaonline.com