Amherst’s Jones Library closed indefinitely after latest storm

By SCOTT MERZBACH

Staff Writer

Published: 08-01-2023 9:02 AM

AMHERST — Heavy flooding inside the Jones Library caused by Saturday evening’s rainstorm is prompting the indefinite closure of the downtown building, which was closed Monday and will remain shuttered Tuesday, as well, according to Library Director Sharon Sharry.

Following the weekend storm, Sharry informed the trustees for the library via email that the leaking atrium, part of the 1993 addition to the 1928 building, caused a significant amount of water to get into the main floor and lower level, flooding fire sensors and causing the sprinkler system to charge in case of fire.

Though there was no fire in the building, a large pipe in the basement burst, causing additional flooding to the basement hallway and basement stacks. An initial inspection revealed at least one online public access catalog computer was damaged, but none of the collection appeared to be harmed. Special Collections, which is on the second floor and has suffered damage from malfunctioning HVAC system in the past, was not affected.

“While I am relieved that the damage was not worse, the Jones Library is more than our collections,” Trustees President Austin Sarat said in a statement. “Closing the library disrupts ESL conversation classes, children’s story time, teen lounge, coding club for girls, just to name a few programs scheduled for this week. Our community relies on the Jones as a place to gather and learn.”

Both Dave Waskiewicz, a town building inspector, and Tina Shen, a town electrical inspector, walked through the building and in the area of the atrium, informing Sharry that the Jones Library needs to remain closed until repairs are made. Those repairs, and the extent of damage to the system, will be determined by the fire alarm technician who, as of mid-afternoon Monday, had not yet been on site.

Fans and dehumidifiers are being used to dry out carpets that will have to be disinfected once they are dry. Ceiling tiles have also been removed in certain areas.

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Sharry couldn’t given an estimate on the timeline for getting back to a functioning building. “I do not know how long it will take before we will be allowed to reopen the library,” Sharry said “For now, the building must dry.”

The atrium has been problematic for much of the past 30 years, even with repairs done to it periodically.

In plans for a $46.14 million renovation and expansion of the 43 Amity St. building planned to get underway next year, the atrium would be replaced by multilevel program space. Various other upgrades to the fire suppression system and other systems are planned.

“This incident underscores the urgent need to renovate,” Sarat said. “Delays not only make the project cost more, but put our collections and programs at ever increasing risk.”

Sharry praised firefighters for their response, and the library maintenance staff.

“Our maintenance team performs daily inspections on all systems and are constantly repairing, fixing and servicing each of these systems,” she said. “In other words, everything is being done that can be done to keep these obsolete systems operable and safe.”

Sharry said should the closure last for an extended period of time, more open hours will be added to the branches, the Munson Memorial Library in South Amherst and the North Amherst Library, which has been operating from the North Square at the Mill District until an addition to the historic building is complete this fall.

Both the Amherst Business Improvement District and W.D. Cowls, Inc., the company that oversees the Mill District, have been contacted by Sharry about where interim space might be available for the main branch.

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