Jones Library director responds to concerns about expansion

  • The Ellen and George Goodwin Room on the third floor of Jones Library. JERREY ROBERTS—

  • The former projection room on the first floor of the Jones Library was once used for showing movies. JERREY ROBERTS

  • Jones Library JERREY ROBERTS—

  • Jones Library JERREY ROBERTS—

  • Garden behind Jones Library. JERREY ROBERTS—

  • Garden behind Jones Library. JERREY ROBERTS—

  • Jones Library JERREY ROBERTS—

  • The garden behind Jones Library could be altered by the proposed expansion. JERREY ROBERTS

  • Jones Library JERREY ROBERTS—

  • Front entrance at Jones Library. JERREY ROBERTS—

  • The Emily Dickinson room, like many of the rooms on the third floor of Jones Library, is used for storage. JERREY ROBERTS

  • The David Grayson room on the third floor of Jones Library. JERREY ROBERTS—

  • The Harlan Fiske Stone room on the third floor of Jones Library. JERREY ROBERTS—

  • Hallway near front door at Jones Library. JERREY ROBERTS—

  • Front entrance at Jones Library. JERREY ROBERTS—

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

  • Children's Room at Jones Library. JERREY ROBERTS—

Staff Writer
Published: 5/3/2016 11:38:13 PM

AMHERST — With its place in the heart of downtown and its use by thousands of patrons each year, including many who come from outside Amherst, the Jones Library has been a much-loved institution in the community for nearly 90 years.

But as library officials continue moving forward with planning an expansion and renovation project, concerns about its size and scope are being expressed by residents, including those in a new group called Save Our Library, which includes three former presidents of the library’s trustees board.

And a Town Meeting petition article seeks to preserve the entirety of the Kinsey Memorial Garden, which could be altered by an expanded building.

Library Director Sharon Sharry said in an interview that many in the public may not yet understand the library’s need for more space and the reasons a larger building is being pursued after Amherst received a planning and design grant from the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners in June 2014.

Sharry said in a perfect world consideration would be given to staying within the existing 50,000-square-foot building, including the original 1928 structure and the expansion that enlarged the Jones in the early 1990s and upgraded the heating, air conditioning, plumbing and wiring.

“But it looks like there’s not enough space,” Sharry said.

The problem, as library trustee Tamson Ely explains, is that the state library board will not finance a project it determines is insufficient for the use Amherst’s library gets.

“We have to demonstrate that what we’ve designed will meet the needs of the community for 20 years plus,” Ely said.

‘Service population’

According to guidelines in the Code of Massachusetts Regulations for public library construction, Jones officials, like those at other libraries, are mandated to follow what are known as the Wisconsin Public Library Standards to calculate the so-called “service population” for the library. This is then used to determine the space needs for the next 20 to 25 years.

“The MBLC needs to make sure what we are designing it as flexible as possible,” Sharry said, observing that the library is about more than just the materials it circulates. “It’s all about programming.”

Under these standards, the Jones is considered to have a 50,000-person service population — even though Amherst has only 37,819 residents.

This service population includes people from surrounding communities and students at the University of Massachusetts and other colleges. In fact, of the 26,000 cardholders, more than 8,000 live outside Amherst.

“The number of people we serve doesn’t correlate to the number of people in town,” Ely said.

Based on space needs, the total recommended gross square footage of an expanded and renovated library should be 73,416 square feet.

A 200-page building program, adopted by trustees last July, takes into account the need for enough seats, tables, chairs and meeting rooms for the number of people who physically visit the Jones, not just those who check out materials, Sharry said.

“If our design doesn’t meet their expectations for a community the size of the Jones Library’s service population, fitting the building program into an overall structure that works for patrons, flows well and allows us to operate with great efficiency and effectiveness, then they will simply reject the application,” Sharry said.

While Finegold Alexander Architects Inc. of Boston is just beginning the work of developing a plan, the current assumption is that when a building project proposal is submitted to the state next January, the library will seek to add between 15,000 and 17,000 square feet.

This proposal would be smaller than what the library requires based on the state code, but the “deviations explained and justified in the application” are permissible.

Along with trustees and the owner’s project manager, Colliers International, a thorough analysis of the space needs for 12 areas of the library is being undertaken, from the entrance, adult circulation and youth and young adult sections to the special collections department, meeting rooms and staff and administration offices.

Sharry said, in all cases, what is currently planned, as of April 11, is smaller than the ideal size of each area in the building program submitted to the MBLC.

Ely said the building program is an idealistic vision, with the state board asking communities that have received planning and design grants to imagine the best library possible, assuming money is not a concern.

Some of the spaces are even smaller than what exists in the current building, with the entrance area and the administration office both planned to be reduced in size.

The spaces that will be enlarged the most are for youth, which will nearly double in size from 3,817 square feet to 7,453 square feet, and young adult, which will more than triple in size from 636 square feet to 1,915 square feet.

Ely said there are 150 teens who come to the library on Friday afternoons but have no area to call their own.

Off-site additions

Two other considerations in the space-needs plan relate to programs and materials that are currently off site. First, the Jones Library anticipates bringing in the Literacy Project, which has an Amherst program based at the Jewish Community of Amherst on Main Street. This would be an appropriate addition due to the longtime presence of the English as a Second Language Center at the Jones, Sharry said.

Second, the plan calls for 1,000 square feet for items held by the Amherst History Society at the Strong House Museum. This would ensure that the museum has a climate-controlled space near the library’s special collections department.

Both of these mean adding more room to the building. “We need more space than a library this size might require,” Ely said.

Though there are no plans to cut the collection size, there is need to have an automated materials handling system and room for more technology, Sharry said.

Ely said the building will have an efficient floor plan. “This is not profligate and wasteful,” Ely said.

The new Save Our Library group has argued that there may be unused space that could be tapped without needing to expand, but Sharry said while there are areas that the public cannot access regularly, these are not wasted. This includes the Goodwin Room, where trustees meetings are held and which may be too large for just this function.

But George Hicks, the facilities director for the Jones, said the room is also a place where valuables are stored, including paintings, books and other items.

The public will have opportunity to respond to the building plan, including open forums with architects, possibly beginning in the summer, and then a spending vote at the annual Town Meeting in May 2017.

George Barnes, project manager for Colliers International, said the architects will be responsible for identifying the space the library should have and which Amherst can afford.

“It’s a delicate balance of funding versus square footage,” Barnes said.

Town Meeting is being asked this spring by the Amherst Historical Society, to rezone the 67 Amity St. property from general residence to general business, which would allow it to sell a portion of its land to the library that could be used in the expansion. Acquiring this land will give the architects more options, Barnes said.

Without the rezoning, Barnes said Finegold Alexander will have to design an expansion that does not use this land to the west.

The building project is already complicated by the nearly nine-decade old original L building. Barnes said this part of the Jones may need to be brought up to compliance with current energy and seismic codes if more than 50 percent of the project involves its renovation.

Three draft plans

Finegold Alexander currently has three draft plans. In the first two, the original building is maintained, but demolition of the 1990s addition occurs.

The third plan keeps everything intact, but puts an addition onto the building that might require going to five stories in height.

Hicks said this is unlikely to be pursued because the addition would dwarf the historic building.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at


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