Historic structure report makes recommendations for Jones Library

  • Jones Library in Amherst FILE PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

Staff Writer
Published: 1/23/2022 12:32:34 PM
Modified: 1/23/2022 12:31:21 PM

AMHERST — Respecting the original design intent of the Jones Library, and avoiding alterations to the remaining portions of the 1928 building, are priority recommendations included in a recently completed historic structure report.

As library trustees undertake a $36.3 million expansion and renovation of the Amity Street building, with the likely removal of most of the 1993 addition, the 60-page report could guide architectural plans for the project.

“Unlike the static nature of a museum building, the Jones Library is a dynamic institution serving the community,” the report states. “While change is inevitable, it doesn’t need to occur at the sacrifice of the historic integrity of the structure.”

When funded in 2017 through $25,000 from the town’s Community Preservation Act, the idea was for the report to “inform and guide final designs of the Jones Library expansion plans.”

An overview of the report was recently presented orally to the Historical Commission and the trustees by Eric Gradoia, an architectural historian, who prepared the study in partnership with Ann Marshall, at the School of Architecture at the University of Massachusetts, and graduate student Carly Regalado.

Gradoia said the Jones building is unique, done in a Colonial Revival style designed to make it look like a home from the exterior, and that he couldn’t cite another example of a civic building like it in the Connecticut River Valley.

The original construction featured what he called a “stout method of building,” with much of what was designed by Boston architects Putnam and Cox still existing, even if buried behind incremental changes that have been necessary for the library to operate.

“Over the decades it’s what happens,” Gradoia said.

The plans also were to have the library feel like a home on the inside, as well, with the most publicly accessible spaces on the main level, with an adult reading room and a children’s room on the west side and an auditorium and stage on the east side. The second floor held some public spaces, such as meeting rooms and galleries and a projection room for the auditorium, while the third floor was largely made up of more private study spaces, sometimes used by prominent writers.

By 1968, recognizing the need for more space, the auditorium was converted into a seating area with stacks and, due to having a vaulted ceiling with dormers, a second floor was added to keep more books. Even the 1993 addition left intact much of the original space, Gradoia said, though how rooms functioned changed.

How Finegold Alexander Architects of Boston, which is handling the project, will use the report is unknown.

Library Director Sharon Sharry said that the library has come a long way over the past 94 years, from serving a small town to one that now has significantly more patrons and more services. Sharry said the project will be about finding a happy medium, observing that while some appreciate the rabbit warren-like atmosphere, others don’t.

“Getting lost in the public library is not great for patrons,” Sharry said.

She also noted that the third floor’s private offices have little purpose. “Having the small rooms is not helpful for a public library,” Sharry said.

Trustees President Austin Sarat said trustees hired a company in Finegold Alexander with a record of historic preservation.

“It’s a gift to all of us that the building has been handed down from generation to generation,” Sarat said.

Jane Wald, chairwoman of the Historical Commission, said the report is a “fabulous contribution” to understanding of the library’s history. The draft can be viewed online at https://bit.ly/3fNVj9J.

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


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