Gentry Public Library
Marlon Blackwell≠ Architects restores a 100-year-old former hardware store to serve as a beacon for a reawakened downtown district.
The modest size and budget of the Gentry Public Library (11,970 square feet, at $108 per square foot) belies its importance to the community of Gentry, Arkansas. The library has become the cornerstone of the revitalization of its downtown district and an important resource for educating the 2,500 residents. While it took seven years to complete the project, despite budget constraints and a few naysayers, “the community never wavered,” says the architect Marlon Blackwell, AIA, of Marlon Blackwell Architects, whose offices are located in nearby Fayetteville.
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Like many small towns in America, Gentry struggles with a deserted Main Street where department stores, pharmacies, and hardware shops have been shuttered in recent decades. Employment opportunities are scarce: Most of the town’s residents work at the local McKee Foods plant (best known for Little Debbie snacks). Being located near the Ozark Mountains in the northwest corner of Arkansas, one of the poorest states in the nation, doesn’t help. Blackwell describes the town’s Main Street as “a hardscrabble, somewhat faded, rough-around-the-edges place that bears the evidence of a much more vital time.” He adds, though, that “it is coming back-slowly — but with purpose.”
The library was to be built in a two-story, century-old brick structure that formerly housed a hardware store. Though of little architectural significance, the building was treasured by the community, and many wished to preserve it. The program consisted of a reading room and related library services, a community room, and a history and genealogy center.
Undeveloped land around the building suggested opportunities for extending community activities at the library outdoors. Part of the project’s scope originally included a vertical garden wall on the back side of the library and construction of an exhibition building for antique fire trucks to be sited behind the library. Both these projects were put on hold due to a shortage of funds.
Formal name of project: Gentry Public Library
105 East Main Street
Gross square footage: 11,970 sq.ft.
Total construction cost: $1,218,081.00
Completion Date: October 2007
Owner: City of Gentry
Marlon Blackwell Architect
100 West Center Street, Suite 001
Fayetteville, Arkansas 72701
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