Public comments favor Jones Library expansion as Amherst Town Council approves project

  • Valerie Gracechild of Amherst reads in the atrium of the Jones Library in Amherst, Aug. 15, 2019. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 4/5/2021 9:50:15 PM

AMHERST — A $36.3 million project to expand and renovate the Jones Library received significant support from residents at a hearing Monday night.

A decision by the Town Council was expected late Monday night following the hearing on the project, expected to break ground as soon as next March, that attracted more than 100 participants.

Under the plans, if approved, the original 1928 structure would be rehabilitated and the addition completed in 1993 would be replaced to increase the library from 48,000 square feet to 63,000 square feet.

The town would be committing $15.75 million to the project, using that to match a $13.87 million construction grant from the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners anticipated in July, and $6.6 million from other private and public sources, including $1 million from the town’s Community Preservation Act account for a new special collections room.

“I really hope that this project goes forward,” said Judith Souweine of Bay Road, suggesting that the expanded Jones Library would provide fabulous opportunities for youth and become the jewel of downtown.

“The library really needs to be rebuilt for the next 30 to 60 years,” said Eugene Goffredo, a South Amherst resident. Goffredo said the project represents “forward thinking.”

They spoke during nearly an hour of overwhelmingly supportive comments, mirroring the 268 emailed comments received by the council by Monday morning. Council President Lynn Griesemer said those emails ran about 72% in favor of the project.

Plans being developed by Finegold Alexander Architects of Boston include providing a bigger children’s room so that more families can participate in programs, having a dedicated teen room, creating an enlarged and climate-controlled area for special collections, and improving space for the English as a Second Language program.

Other areas of the building that will be fixed include expanded space for audiovisual materials, more tables and chairs for patrons and replacing the circulation desk that library staff view as dysfunctional.

Another selling point has been the energy efficiencies in the renovated building and getting the library to net-zero in terms of energy usage.

Some residents spoke against the spending. “I think it’s too big and not too well thought out,” said Marah Loft of Ward Street, who added her concerns are about both cost and the renderings showing a building that is not friendly looking.

Vincent O’Connor of Summer Street said the children’s room is adequate as is. “I would urge city councilors to not vote for it,” O’Connor said.

The council was also expected to vote on authorizing Town Manager Paul Bockelman to enter into a memorandum of understanding with the elected trustees for the library. That agreement would protect the town and spells out obligations related to the project’s budget.

The full renovation of the existing building would also remedy defects, including an aging HVAC system, elevators that don’t individually access each floor and often break down, a leaky glass atrium, exposed wiring and worn carpets. An architect has estimated that work alone, with no expansion of the building, at between $14.3 million and $16.8 million.

Erika Zekos of Hulst Road said a sensible approach is to pursue the money being offered. “I think opting out of state funding leaves us the same bill for a far inferior project,” Zekos said.

The library would have to provide services from a different site for 72 weeks, meaning that a reopening would come in fall 2023.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at


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