A big dream and a new building.
The Gentry Public Library has served the city and surrounding communities since its organization in 1975. Over the years, it has experienced significant growth and change. In 1998, the decision was made to hire a librarian, and in April of that year, Darla Threet was chosen to oversee daily operations.
The library continued to flourish and was beginning to outgrow its small building. But moving into a larger facility would require funding. In February of 2000, Darla, along with Library Board Director James Furgason, attended several meetings with area librarians. They worked toward the passage of a county-wide mil tax dedicated to Benton County libraries. Their efforts were defeated twice, and Benton remains as one of the three counties in the state without a library mil tax. This means that the libraries of Benton County receive neither federal nor state support.
The search for a bigger building continued. The old Carl's Hardware store was sitting empty just across the street from the library, and in July of 2000, the Library Board toured the abandoned structure with award-winning architect Marlon Blackwell. Joe Carl, a library volunteer, offered his building to the city for $120,000, and agreed to donate $20,000 back to the cause. The library organized a kick-off fundraising campaign, and Gentry citizens pledged nearly $30,000. In the following months, they raised an additional $25,000 with a gala and auction, a car show, rummage sales, memorial donations, and other miscellaneous fundraising events. Then, in 2002, the citizens of Gentry voted for a sales and use tax for the purpose of constructing, equipping, operating, and maintaining a new library.
The city assumed ownership of the building and unanimously chose Mr. Blackwell as the project architect. But work didn't begin immediately. For the next two years, every construction bid received by the Gentry City Council was too high. Then, in May of 2006, the council accepted a bid from SSI Construction. McKee Baking Company donated $250,000 for the completion of the Community Center portion of the facility. And in June, Benton County prisoners arrived to begin the demolition of certain parts of the old building. Construction was underway.
Work was completed in the Summer of 2007. The old library closed in September and began its move across the street. In November, Gentry's new library, a structure architect Marlon Blackwell describes as a new civic presence surgically placed in the 100 year-old shell of a former hardware store, was finally opened to the public.