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Little Rock, Arkansas

Renovation & Addition
9,700 SF
Civil/Landscape - Crafton Tull  
Structural - ECI 
Overview from

"Sue Cowan Williams displayed courage in 1942 by challenging unequal salaries for African American teachers in the segregated Little Rock School District. Despite an initial court ruling against her, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis eventually reversed the decision, marking a significant victory in the milestone lawsuit, Morris v. Williams. Williams faced retaliation, losing her teaching contract at the end of the 1942-43 school year. Her lawsuit played a pivotal role in galvanizing the African American community’s engagement with civil rights, strengthening the NAACP in Arkansas. Reinstated in 1952, Williams taught at Dunbar until her retirement in 1974. A prominent figure in various organizations, she passed away on May 31, 1994, leaving a lasting legacy in the fight for equal rights.

The tenth library in the Central Arkansas Library System, dedicated on March 22, 1997, honors Williams. Located near the historic Dunbar High School building in downtown Little Rock, where Williams taught, the Sue Cowan Williams Library continues her legacy."

AMR has been honored to renovate a building rooted in such historical significance. The library not only provides a place for education, but is also a community gathering space. Some of the goals for the renovation were to open up the space, update the furnishings, and provide a inviting and colorful environment. Directly across a parking lot from Dunbar Middle School, over 100 kids flood the library everyday after school to study, socialize, and have a meal while waiting for their rides home.

Before designing took place, AMR along with Crystal C. Mercer Watson organized a series of community events at the library to not only excite the neighborhood, but to also gather information on what they would like to see in the new space.

The first change we made was moving the main entrance. Originally on the north side of the building, the old entrance was small and unassuming. We wanted to celebrate the library, and honor Sue Cowan by moving the entrance to the west side of the building facing Dunbar Middle where she dedicated so much of her career. The new entrance is bright and inviting with large letters signifying its presence. A plaza was constructed out front with landscaping, benches, and picnic tables for outdoor hangouts. In partnership with the middle school, a crosswalk was striped through the parking lot to provide a safe route from the school to the library.

Once inside, it was important to provide a space where kids could be kids, and separate themselves from the other patrons in the building, and thus the Teen Center was created. Closed off from the rest of the library, but with plenty of sightlines into it, the Teen Center contains age-appropriate books, computer stations, and flat-screen TVs with gaming consoles.

Providing additional space for staff was another issue. Besides bursting at the seams with their current storage situation, there was no room for additional employees. Luckily, we were able to take advantage of the building's tall ceilings, and build up instead of out. The creation of a mezzanine above their existing office area essentially doubled their space for additional storage and work stations.

The other big ask from the library was the need for a teaching kitchen. Extending out from their existing community room, the new kitchen provides classes for the community, as well as a new partnership with their neighbor Dunbar Garden.
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