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story.lead_photo.caption NWA Democrat-Gazette/STACY RYBURN David Johnson, executive director, smiles Monday during the Fayetteville Public Library board meeting. The board approved a $5.6 million budget for 2018.

FAYETTEVILLE -- Library patrons will continue to see a jump in collections and programming next year with no noticeable interruption in services as the multimillion-dollar expansion begins, administrators say.

The board on Monday passed a $5.6 million budget for 2018. The budget includes about $150,000 more for material than spent in 2016, plus a nearly $50,000 jump in programming expenses from that same year.

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To read the entire 2018 budget, go to:

Voter approval in August 2016 to increase the millage for maintenance and operations made the difference, said Stephen Davis, manager of accounting and human resources.

The overall millage hike also included a measure to pay for construction of an 80,000-square-foot, $49 million expansion. Construction should start in early 2019, but preparation has already begun, Davis said.

For example, the library will set aside nearly $1.4 million for facilities and information technology. The goal is to keep the library running as usual, with no interruptions in Wi-Fi or any other services, as site preparation gets going, Davis said.

"I don't know if you've been around very many construction projects, but that's hard to do," he said.

The budget reflects a marked turnaround from just a few years ago. In 2015, the library's administration made more than $345,000 in cuts and instituted a hiring freeze. There wasn't enough operating revenue to cover services from 2013 to 2016, thus prompting the millage vote.

Starting with the 2017 budget, the library started replenishing its material, rescinded the hiring freeze and dedicated more money to programs such as the True Lit festival.

Board members on Monday noticed the difference from years past.

"This is the easiest annual budget we've had since I've been here," Board President Hershey Garner said.

The $5.6 million 2018 budget is actually about $600,000 more than what board members approved last year, even though the 2017 budget has gone down on paper as just more than $7 million. That's because a long-awaited $2 million transfer from the library's foundation went through to purchase the adjacent City Hospital land to the south.

The land deal with Washington Regional Medical Center spent years tied up in court before the Arkansas Supreme Court ruled in its favor. With the deal behind it, the administration has gotten work underway at the site of the expansion.

Asbestos abatement in the old City Hospital building should wrap by the end of January. The expansion design team also will meet then with library administrators to go over details of the expansion plan. A demolition plan to clear the expansion site should follow after that.

The old hospital and church building should be demolished by midsummer, with site preparation and grading for construction to start near the end of July, Executive Director David Johnson said.

Specific plans for the new library, set to open in 2021, have taken shape. Partnerships are being discussed for a restaurant inside that would also serve as a culinary learning experience, Johnson said. Prices would keep the program sustainable, with ingredients picked from a planned garden. More details should be ironed out by the next board meeting.

The library soon will start inviting people to status meetings rather than public input sessions, Johnson said.

"At some point we're going to have to settle on a plan," he said.

NW News on 12/19/2017

Print Headline: Library board approves budget

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