Group says Jones Library is an endangered resource

  • Jones Library JERREY ROBERTS

  • Former projection room at Jones Library. JERREY ROBERTS

  • George Hicks, who is the building supervisor of Jones Library, walks to the third floor, Thursday. JERREY ROBERTS

  • Front entrance at Jones Library. JERREY ROBERTS

Staff Writer
Published: 8/18/2016 6:23:25 PM

AMHERST — With preliminary plans for the Jones Library expansion and renovation project showing changes to the entire building, including to both the original 1928 portion and the 1990s addition, a community group is asking for the Jones to be classified as an endangered state historical resource.

Save Our Library, a community group formed to collect information and react to plans, this week submitted an application to the Plymouth-based Preservation Massachusetts seeking for the library to be selected as an endangered resource.

Save Our Library member Sarah McKee, a former president of the Jones’ elected trustees, said she believes the building qualifies as a threatened resource because of the project being considered.

“Current plans include gutting the historic 1928 building, except for two of the original fireplaces, and the part of the two-story walnut staircase that links the front hall and second floor,” McKee said in an email to the private organization.

Preservation Mass Assistant Director Erin Kelly said in an email said the designation, if granted, would have no impact on the library.

“The actual listing itself, is an honorary designation and does not come with any sort of protection, legal standing, financial or service guarantee,” Kelly said.

The application comes after Finegold Alexander Architects of Boston last month unveiled plans in which the main staircase at the front of the building would be relocated and the entire second floor of the 88-year-old building would be converted into a reading room.

The architects must meet an Oct. 7 deadline to submit schematic drawings and a project cost estimate to the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners. After the October submission, the next step will be submitting a construction grant application in January.

Support of trustees

The application to Preservation Massachusetts, though not initiated by officials, has support from Library Director Sharon Sharry and the elected trustees.

Sharry said in an email that Finegold Aelxander has a track record of preserving historic buildings and that the firm wouldn’t have been selected if wasn’t going to preserve much of the 1928 building.

“The trustees and I are grateful that the community agrees with us that we must preserve the original historic 1920s structure of the Jones Library,” Sharry said.

Austin Sarat, president of the trustees, said in an email that trustees and staff of the Jones value and share the commitment of all Amherst residents to preserve the library’s historic character. The architects do, as well, he said.

The expansion and renovation is being pursued, he said, to meet the current and future needs of the community, making sure, for instance, that there is adequate space for programming and books for children and teens.

“We know we can do what is demonstrably necessary to improve the ability of the library to serve well all of Amherst’s residents now and in the future while honoring its historical significance,” Sarat said. “We are confident that, when our plans are finished, any objective group will acknowledge that Amherst can do both.”

In the application, the Save Our Library group submitted a letter on behalf of Joseph Larson, professor emeritus of environmental conservation at the University of Massachusetts. In his letter, Larson wrote that in 1975 the Jones was included on the state’s Inventory of Historical and Archaeological Assets, and in 1991 it was added to the state and national registers of historic places.

“The entrance hallway, grand staircase, wooden doors, wall and window moldings, paint finishes and artwork were carefully thought out and designed to be an outstanding statement of the importance of a library and its functions to the character of the town and its citizens,” Larson wrote.

During a presentation last month, concerns about losing the home-style elements incorporated into the original design of the building by its benefactor, Samuel Minot Jones, were expressed by some residents who participated.

In November, Preservation Mass will announce the results of this year’s applications.

According to its website, such a designation “is not legally binding in any way, nor is the program to be used as a negative, smear or shame campaign.”

McKee said she appreciates that Preservation Mass “fosters historic preservation in a spirit of education, cooperation and collaboration.”

Two Amherst locations have previously received designation on the most endangered historical resources: West Cemetery, which includes the graves of Emily Dickinson, other earlier settlers and black soldiers who fought in the Civil War, was named in 1998, and in 2007, the entirety of the UMass campus was picked.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com. 




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