Jones Library hires Finegold Alexander Architects of Boston to design up to $40 million expansion

Last modified: Friday, January 08, 2016

AMHERST — A Boston company that completed architectural designs for renovating and expanding the Holyoke Public Library will oversee a similar project for the Jones Library.

The Jones Library trustees Thursday voted unanimously to hire Finegold Alexander Architects to handle the work, following a recommendation from a subcommittee that narrowed the five architects who participated in public interviews in December to two finalists. The other finalist was Johnson Roberts Associates Inc. of Somerville.

Tamson Ely, a trustees representative to the subcommittee, said the preference was for Finegold Alexander because it has more staff and had completed the project in Holyoke, which blended new and old seamlessly. Ely said this could be a model for what happens at Jones.

“It was really pretty impressive,” Ely said of the Holyoke project, observing that trustees want an architect to develop a plan that honors the history of the 88-year-old building in Amherst while modernizing it.

Trustees anticipate using a portion of a $50,000 planning and design grant from the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners, supplemented by $25,000 appropriated by Town Meeting, to pay for the first building project since 1993. Then, a $4.6 million expansion added 12,000 square feet to create a 57,000-square-foot library.

Jones could expand to a 110,000-square-foot building that would address deficiencies in the current structure, including the lack of small, quiet study rooms, a computer training lab and a youth activities room. This project could cost up to $40 million, with a large portion paid by the state and through fundraising in the community.

James Alexander, principal for Finegold Alexander, Tony Hsiao, its principal designer, and Ellen Anselone, its project manager, participated in the interviews. Ely said it was evident they appreciate the constraints of the Jones Library property, which is just under an acre.

“We felt that they had a lot of relevant experience and they understood the site space restrictions,” Ely said.

Trustees are continuing to discuss acquiring land or partnering with the neighboring Amherst History Museum, located on about three-quarters of an acre, but no deal is yet in place.

Library officials have also pledged to preserve the Kinsey Memorial Garden, located at the rear of the library. The garden forms a buffer between the library and the public parking lot behind the CVS pharmacy at 76 North Pleasant St. But that side of the library is also the most logical place for expansion, since there is no interest in making changes to the front of the building facing Amity Street.

Finegold Alexander has earned awards, supports green design and is involved with the restoration of the Old Chapel on the University of Massachusetts campus, Ely said.

Trustees president Austin Sarat said he likes the strong local connections for the Boston company, with John Kuhn of Kuhn Riddle Architects in Amherst one of its consulting architects. Also, it has contracted with landscape architect Peter Wells of the Berkshire Design Group in Northampton.

Sarat added that he trusts there would not be significant change orders during the course of the project. “We were convinced they have adequate ability to do cost control,” Sarat said.

A schematic design completed by the architect will be submitted to the state library commissioners by Jan. 31, 2017, which would be followed by Town Meeting approval later that spring to seek a construction grant. According to the current schedule, construction would begin in July 2018 and conclude by Jan. 1, 2020.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at


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