Jones Library trustees in Amherst to make expansion pitch at spring TM, unveil report detailing repairs if project rejected

  • Jones Library JERREY ROBERTS

Staff Writer
Published: 2/15/2017 4:02:20 PM

AMHERST — By the time annual Town Meeting concludes in the spring, Jones Library officials will know whether there is support to continue pursuing a nearly $36 million project to expand and renovate the 43 Amity St. building.

Understanding that concerns exist in the community about the scope of the project — from how much it might impact the Kinsey Memorial Garden to possible changes to the 1928 building’s wood paneling, fireplaces and cozy spaces — library trustees recently hired Western Builders of Granby to assess a list of 13 capital repairs that must be undertaken whether or not the larger expansion moves ahead.

Library Director Sharon Sharry said it makes sense to have someone professionally evaluate and provide cost projections for capital needs should the building project not move forward.

“We want to give as much information as possible so the community can make an informed decision about this,” she said.

Town Meeting, Sharry said, is being asked to approve the building program in the spring, which will outline the square footage and the various services an expanded library will have. But the actual spending on the project wouldn’t come to a vote until annual Town Meeting in 2018, at the earliest.

Western Builders, which will be paid up to $9,500, will have until April 30 to complete a report. The firm will focus on a range of repairs, from replacing the glass atrium roof that was a centerpiece of the last significant work in the early 1990s to installing a new elevator in the 1928 portion of the building that conforms with current building codes and the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Jones’ Facilities Director George Hicks said detailed cost estimates will show how much the town might have to spend to fix the building over the next five years should voters opt to not go with the larger expansion project. But because the contractor is not an architect, these estimates may be lower than what is actually needed, he said.

Expansion plan

Under the current expansion plan, completed through $75,000 spent on planning and design, Finegold Alexander of Boston worked to create a 65,000-square-foot building that would add 17,000 square feet to the current building size, at a cost of $35.6 million. Of this, $13.7 million would come from a grant from the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners, and the remaining $21.9 million would come from the town, with this amount reduced by a combination of fundraising and other grants.

Sharry said when library officials first wrote a building program based on needs identified by staff and the public, the size of the building was 110,400 square feet. The architect and owner’s project manager were able to analyze the program needs and reduce the project to one that would fit within the town’s budget, while still meeting criteria outlined by the state library board.

Sharry said so far there has been a “methodical process” to be responsible to taxpayers.

“We need to propose a library not only to serve the needs of the community for the next 30 to 40 years, it needs to be affordable,” Sharry said.

Amherst is one of 34 cities and towns across the state competing for funding and, if it is selected, will have six months to return to Town Meeting for the funding.

Matthew Blumenfeld, principal at Financial Development Agency, said if Town Meeting approves the warrant article this spring, Amherst can obtain significant grant funding.

If Town Meeting rejects the article, though, then library officials will have to work with the town and the Joint Capital Planning Committee on how to pay the costs of deferred maintenance, with no support from the state, Blumenfeld said.

Blumenfeld said that library staff and members of the building committee have promoted efficiencies.

“The important thing was that this was an evolving process led by staff and volunteers, but run by professionals,” Blumendfeld said.

As proposed, the project would expand the current three-story building over space that includes the Kinsey Garden.

Sharry said architects looked at whether an “inspansion” would save the Kinsey Garden, but this would have meant a five-story building to ensure there is a young adult room and space for technology, both of which are needed to get support from the state.

Architects also looked at the existing footprint but no more than three stories high, but this would only add 3,000 square feet to the library.

While a group critical of the project known as Save Our Library has described the building project as gutting the historic building, Sharry notes that plans currently include preserving the main facade, restoring the theater room where adult fiction is housed, converting the second floor from work space to a reading room and maintaining the children’s room and the front stairway. Changes might include removing a fireplace from her office and giving it greater prominence for patrons.

Sharry added that the project hasn’t yet reached the stage where architects are looking at the feel of the interior and exterior of the building.

Blumenfeld said the public should be confident that Finegold Alexander are strong preservationists and that the library may even be able to seek state historic tax credits. The way to obtain these, he said, is to treat the building with incredible respect.

The desire is to retain and improve the library’s offerings, and continue to serve people no matter their socio-economic status, which is why the library has pledged to continue to have the English as a Second Language program in the building, rather than moving it off site.

“The truth is we’re trying to make significant improvements to the library to benefit everyone in the community,” Blumenfeld said.

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


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