Group raises concerns about library project

Staff Writer
Published: 4/20/2016 1:56:47 AM

AMHERST –  A new community group hopes to give residents more opportunities to comment about plans to expand and renovate the Jones Library.

Save Our Library is the name of the committee that hopes to collect information on the library’s needs and react to project plans as they are unveiled.

“What we’re concerned about is there seems to be very little opportunity for the public to say what they feel about it, and people have pretty strong feelings about the library,” said Mary Wentworth, a member of the Save Our Library committee.

The first community meeting organized by the group will be held at 3 p.m. May 8 at the Unitarian Universalist  Society, 121 North Pleasant St.

Wentworth said the fear for the group is that the project would be a mostly new building, possibly involving demolishing large portions of the existing library, rather than primarily a renovation.

In an email, Library Director Sharon Sharry said the Jones Library is committed to an open process that welcomes public input from users of all ages.

“We continue to hold design meetings, which are posted on the town’s website, at which the public is welcome to attend and are also working with our design team to create appropriate forums specifically geared at soliciting public input,” Sharry said.

Finegold Alexander Architects of Boston was hired to develop a plan that Sharry has said the town can afford, but will also serve residents and visitors for the next 25 years.

The best concept is around a $30 million project, with a 67,000-square-foot building that would be funded by the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners and receive support from Town Meeting, Sharry said.

If the existing 50,000-square-foot building is only renovated, at a $20 million cost, the project would not be funded by the state, Sharry has said, but if the library project is significantly larger it probably would not pass muster with Town Meeting.

Sharry said any expansion would likely make the most sense if it is toward the west, which would mean using a portion of the Strong House Museum property currently owned by the Amherst Historical Society.

Based on the current schedule, the plan is to submit the building project to the state in January 2017, and then bring a project for approval to Town Meeting in May 2017, with construction, at the earliest, start in spring 2018. 

But trustees need Town Meeting support this spring, including for a zoning change of the neighboring Strong House property that would allow the library to acquire land for the project without zoning violations.

The Select Board Monday voted unanimously to support the zoning change, which is also being recommended by the Planning Board as creating better consistency for downtown zoning.

Renovation preferred

Wentworth said renovation should be the preferred option.

“Our group contends that there is plenty of room in the present structure,” Wentworth said. “I’m dumbfounded to find all the unused space there is now.”

She suggests ways to better use space could include fixing the “disjuncture” between the old parts of the building and those built during the last renovation in the 1990s. This would make more areas of the building accessible to the public.

Three members of Save Our Library, Patricia Holland, Sarah McKee and Merrylees “Molly” Turner, are former presidents of the trustees board. Another member is Carol Pope, who created the Kinsey Memorial Garden and who has an advisory petition article coming before Town Meeting that the garden, which includes rare specimens she purchased and tended, remain intact throughout the project.

“We want to see the garden preserved and continued,” Wentworth said. 

Wentworth said Save Our Library also will ask to view all correspondence between the architect and library trustees.

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

 




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