Jones Library trustees approve document to guide architect in potential expansion project

Last modified: Friday, July 03, 2015

AMHERST — A document that will guide an architect in developing plans for an expanded and renovated Jones Library has been adopted by the library’s trustees.

The trustees on Thursday voted unanimously to approve the building program. The document includes both general information about any construction project — such as the need to preserve the Kinsey Memorial Garden at the back of the building and to use technology to limit any staff expansion that might come from enlarging the building — as well as specific plans, such as finding space in the building to house the tablets that recognize the town’s Civil War soldiers.

“For all of us, this is a very exciting moment,” said trustees president Austin Sarat.

The 200-page report will be submitted to the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners. “This is the board telling them what our needs are,” said Library Director Sharon Sharry.

The state commissioners must approve the plan before an architect can be hired using a portion of a $50,0000 planning and design grant. Sharry said she is confident that the building program will be approved.

The building program was written over a period of about two years by Sharry and library staff. The plan elaborates on how existing spaces can be reconfigured, including the cramped quarters for children’s books and a circulation desk that is not near the two entrances. It also urges that any expansion project preserve the historic feel of the 87-year-old building.

The document will be available in hard copy at the Jones Library and will be posted on the Jones Library website at, Sharry said.

The next step in the building process will be to hire someone to fill a position known as the owner’s project manager, to oversee design and construction. Interviews for that position are underway, Sharry said.

If the project to expand the 57,000-square-foot building is approved by Amherst voters, construction would take place in 2019.

Meanwhile, consultants from Financial Development Agency Inc. — an Amherst-based fundraising consulting firm hired by trustees — are suggesting launching listening tours that would have staff, trustees and volunteers meet with people interested in learning more about what is planned.

According to a memo sent to Sharry from the firm’s principals, Matt Blumenfeld and Claudia Canale-Parola, the goals of the tours include understanding “key community concerns about the long-term capital plan and to broaden the interviewee’s understanding of the benefits of a Jones renovation and expansion.”

Sharry said the personal meetings will give a sense of what needs to be communicated to the public, and will be used to clear up any misconceptions about the project. One of the main concerns voiced by people so far has been to ensure that any expansion does not destroy the library’s gardens.

Sarat said trustees remain committed to keeping the green space and are even hiring a gardener to work eight hours per week tending the Jones Library gardens, as well as plantings outside the North Amherst Library.

Library trustees continue to meet with the Amherst Historical Society about the possibility of connecting an expanded Jones to the Strong House museum.

Sharry said the listening tours can solicit feedback, but they are not intended to persuade the public that the building project is a good idea. “I don’t think we’re quite at the convincing stage,” Sharry said.

Sarat said he would prefer to listen to and respond to concerns rather than being in a position of promoting the project. “I’m not in the business of marketing the library’s building plan,” Sarat said.

Financial Development Agency Inc. also will assist in conducting surveys and having people fill out questionnaires.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at


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