Editorial: Jones Library project needs careful study

  • A $35.6 million expansion proposed for the Jones Library in Amherst needs careful study. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Published: 3/2/2017 9:01:42 PM

A major renovation proposed for the Jones Library in Amherst requires careful study, and we are encouraged by the recent hiring of a firm to assess specific repairs needed whether or not the $35.6 million expansion project is approved.

Western Builders of Granby will be paid up to $9,500 to report by April 30 on 13 capital repairs needed in the library at 43 Amity St., which was constructed in 1928. They include some which are required to ensure that the building meets current building codes and Americans with Disabilities Act requirements, such as replacing the fire alarm system and installing a new elevator, while others are cosmetic, including new carpeting and repainting interior ceilings, walls and staircases.

That report will give Town Meeting members additional information to consider this spring when they are asked to approve the project and authorize the application for a library construction grant from the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners. Amherst, which is among 34 communities in the state competing for state funding, would seek a $13.7 million grant. If the grant is approved, Amherst would then have six months for Town Meeting to authorize spending the remainder.

The renovation and expansion backed by the trustees would create space for children’s and teen programming, expand the English as a Second Language instruction now housed at Jones and add a reading room for adults. The three-story, 48,000 square-foot building would increase in size by 35 percent with the addition of 17,000 square feet over space that now includes the Kinsey Memorial Garden, which was created in 1999.

Loss of the garden, demolishing an addition completed in 1993 and the project’s expense has generated opposition, including a group called Save Our Library. Sarah McKee, a former president of the library trustees who is active with the opposition group, says, “Spring Town meeting will vote on whether to approve the design of the trustees’ demolition/expansion project, and whether to approve their applying for, accepting and spending any state grant.

“Town Meeting will serve Amherst best by voting down both articles. This will help to preserve our historic library, even while the trustees pursue needed repairs. We can then envision together, and cooperate to procure, the 21st-century public library services the entire town needs and deserves.”

Austin Sarat, the current board president, makes the trustees’ case for the $35.6 million project. He says: “After an almost three-year process … the board has developed a building program designed to serve the library for the next 20 to 40 years.

“The trustees will ensure that any renovation and expansion should maintain as much of the library’s ‘home-like’ atmosphere as possible. Thus, the preliminary designs for the renovation of the building maintain the exterior of the 1928 building, return five of the wood-paneled rooms with fireplaces to their original purpose as reading rooms and public spaces, convert several of the staff areas to public areas, make the barrel vault ceiling of the original theater space visible again, and keep the library’s front staircase. As we move forward, we will invite additional public participation in filling in the design details.”

The proposed size of the expansion already was substantially reduced from the 110,400 square feet originally designed based on all the needs identified by library staff and the public.

And Town Meeting last year limited the area available for expanding Jones by turning down rezoning that would have allowed more space on the back side of the building.

To her credit, library director Sharon Sharry acknowledges opposition to the project, which is one reason why the Granby firm was hired. “We want to give as much information as possible so the community can make an informed decision,” she said.

Because the trustees have deferred much maintenance at the library since 2014 while the expansion plan was developed, no matter what its fate, some repairs will be needed soon. The most important are those which ensure the library complies with state and federal regulations.

Consideration also should be given to the needs of the library branch in North Amherst, which does not have public restrooms and is not accessible to handicapped people.

We look forward to the report by Western Builders that is the next step in identifying costs for essential repairs as Town Meeting decides how much money Amherst can afford to spend on improvements to the Jones Library.


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