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Behind the Lens: The Town That Had No Library

Architecture students transformed an old bank into a library for Newbern, Ala.

last look newbern library
(Timothy Hursley)
Sunshine High School in Newbern, Ala., closed its doors for good two years ago. But the town’s 186 residents didn’t just lose a school, they lost a library -- the only one for miles around.

Luckily, Newbern is home to Rural Studio, a design-build program within Auburn University’s School of Architecture. Following the principle that “everyone, both rich and poor, deserves the benefit of good design,” Rural Studio set out to build Newbern a new library.

Students repurposed an old bank building donated by a local family, reusing many of the original materials. Wood that was part of the teller’s counter was made into the librarian’s desk, bricks from the vault are now part of a patio wall and the original vault door is on display in the front window.

To date, the Rural Studio has built more than 170 projects in poor, underserved rural communities, including both a new fire station and town hall in Newbern.

David Kidd is a photojournalist and storyteller for Governing. He can be reached at dkidd@governing.com.
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