Historical review panels next hurdle for Amherst’s Jones Library project

  • Patrons enter the Jones Library in Amherst on Friday, Oct. 29, 2021. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 4/20/2022 8:00:33 AM
Modified: 4/20/2022 7:59:16 AM

AMHERST — Architects designing the $36.3 million expansion and renovation of the Jones Library are preparing to soon seek approvals from both state and local historic review panels.

But Jim Alexander, principal emeritus for Finegold Alexander Architects of Boston, told the Jones Library Design Subcommittee on Friday that the size of the building, which will go from 48,000 square feet to 63,000 square feet, is raising concerns for the Massachusetts Historical Commission, even though he said the designs call for a “reasonably compatible addition” given the constraints of the 43 Amity St. site.

“We just have to really go in and maybe beg forgiveness because that’s what it’s going to be, and push it through,” Alexander said.

The project at the building originally constructed in 1928, scheduled to get underway late next year, is being guided not only by the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners, which approved it based on the library’s various long-term programmatic needs, but also a historic easement held by the Massachusetts Historical Commission and a historic structure report delivered to the town’s Historical Commission that outlines the building’s interior and exterior historical aspects.

“Both of these documents, I think we can work with,” Alexander said.

The idea, Alexander said, is to have schematics finalized so they can be presented to the town’s Historical Commission.

“It’s important that we do the revisions to these schematics as soon as possible,” he said.

Alexander said the local commission will likely be more interested than the state in the various woodwork and fireplaces that could be affected by the project. He said the plans are to save as much of this detail as is practical.

“I know the locals are going to be interested in that,” Alexander said, adding that state library building guidelines don’t normally force an architect to consider the interior.

The architects have already adjusted plans, such as preserving the staircase at the entrance that was originally to be moved.

Other historical aspects of the interior will likely have to be removed, such as the small reading rooms on the third floor.

Ellen Anselone, Finegold Alexander’s vice president, said state library commissioners will not sign off on the project if schematics include rooms that aren’t publicly accessible or are potentially out of view to the staff and pose a safety hazard.

In addition, historical tax credits are being sought that will cover some $3 million of the project costs. It’s uncertain how the review of the historical aspects of the building will play into the acquisition of those credits.

But Austin Sarat, president of the trustees, said there is no intention to be adversarial, and that staff and trustees appreciate the building’s history.

“Historic preservation is a high priority for this project,” Sarat said.

The designs show an exterior of the new building that will use some of the same materials and forms as the existing library. “Our idea is to blend with the existing,” Anselone said.

An outreach session for the public will be held at the library on May 1 from noon to 2 p.m. At that time, people can offer suggestions and input for what they want in the expanded building.


Support Local Journalism

Subscribe to the Daily Hampshire Gazette, your leading source for news in the Pioneer Valley.

Daily Hampshire Gazette Office

23 Service Center Road
Northampton, MA 01060


Copyright © 2021 by H.S. Gere & Sons, Inc.
Terms & Conditions - Privacy Policy