Jones Library and Strong House museum in Amherst near agreement on expansion project

Last modified: Saturday, February 06, 2016

AMHERST — Officials representing the Jones Library and the Strong House museum, buildings which are on neighboring properties downtown, are nearing an agreement essential to the library’s planned expansion and renovation.

The Buildings and Facilities subcommittee of the Jones Library trustees will meet with Amherst Historical Society representatives at 1 p.m. Tuesday to discuss, and possibly sign, a memorandum of understanding between the long-time institutions, said Library Director Sharon Sharry.

James Wald, a member of the Select Board and president of the society that oversees the 1750s-era Strong House, said Friday that a pact is close following more than a year of serious exploration of a formal relationship.

“We’re moving forward with consultation with a lawyer who’s been drafting the documents we’ll need for this legal process,” Wald said.

While Wald is not sure a document will be signed, he understands the sense of urgency for the library, which recently selected Finegold Alexander Architects of Boston to complete a building program that should be complete later this year. The library project could cost up to $40 million, depending on the size of the expansion and extent of renovations needed.

Having an agreement in place will allow the architect to possibly explore use of the adjacent property. A schematic design completed by the architect needs to be submitted to the state library commissioners by Jan. 31, 2017, and Town Meeting would be asked to approve the project 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.

Jones has a limited site, about three-quarters of an acre, with constraints both at the front, with the Amity Street facade remaining largely unchanged since the building was constructed in 1928, and the rear side featuring the David Chapin Kinsey Memorial Garden that buffers the building from the parking lot behind the CVS Pharmacy.

It remains uncertain how close a relationship the two institutions would have if an agrement is signed and whether there will be a physical connection between the two buildings. Some have advocated for this connection as both have missions of preserving the past, with the special collections at Jones holding numerous documents related to Emily Dickinson and Robert Frost, while the museum houses around 7,000 objects, with the most famous being a white dress worn by Dickinson.

But even if not a physical connection, there could be use of a portion of the Strong House property, which prompted the start of an archaeological survey last fall of the entire site. This included use of a ground-penetrating radar that will supplement and expand upon the knowledge people already have about the property, including a study done 25 years ago when the Jones Library last underwent an expansion, and test pits dug in 2011. An archaeological dig is scheduled for spring.

Such a relationship and possible merger between the two groups started being considered about five years ago during a long-range study conducted by the historical society.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at


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