Questions voiced about Jones Library project

  • Jones Library JERREY ROBERTS

Staff Writer
Published: 5/10/2016 11:17:40 PM

AMHERST — There were many questions asked but few answers available Tuesday afternoon as representatives of the architects designing an expansion of the Jones Library met with the public for the first time.

More than 50 residents, including many Town Meeting members, packed the Woodbury Room at the Jones Library for the 90-minute session.

Many said they continue to be concerned about the scope and cost of the project.

“I very much want to be persuaded, but I’m not yet persuaded,” said Michael Greenebaum, a Town meeting member fromPrecinct 6.

Janet McGowan, of Precinct 8, said Town Meeting members need to know the smallest-size library the state would approve, but Lauren Stara, a library building specialist for the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners, said that number would be impossible to provide.

She explained that the state board will examine the proposed layout and how space is divided within the building to decide if the planned expansion covers enough square feet.

“There’s no magic number,” Stara said.

She said the board asks architects to take the collection size and number of seats needed to come up with the square footage total, and then see how a building program works within those parameters. The population of the town is also factored into this assessment.

Sarah McKee, former president of the library trustees and a member of a community group called Save Our Library, praised the current trustees for pursuing a renovation and expansion project.

But McKee said many questions remain, including whether more staff would be needed in an enlarged library.

Barbara Puffer of Montague Road, who said she spends half the year in Geneva, Switzerland, argued that Amherst is not flush with money and the architects need to develop a project the town can afford.

Robert Pam, a member of the Jones trustees, said he wants to keep the library available for future generations.

“The question you have to ask yourself, is this the best we can do at this time,” Pam said.

Project’s size reduced

When library officials submitted a proposal for funding to the Board of Library Commissioners, a 110,000-square-foot building was envisioned to meet the projected service needs of the community.

Since being selected by the state for a planning and design grant in 2014, and hiring both architects and an owner’s project manager, the size of the potential project has been reduced to 68,000 square feet — a 21,000-square-foot expansion of the current 47,000-square-foot building.

But even though Finegold Alexander Architects of Boston is focused on this smaller expansion and renovation project, the first to be undertaken at the Jones since the early 1990s, state library officials say they won’t know whether such a project will be funded until the formal proposal is received this fall.

Library Director Sharon Sharry said cutting 42,000 square feet from the size of a library for the ideal building program means architects will be designing an expansion in which rooms must be used for multiple functions.

“Flexibility is key,” Sharry said. “It’s one of the things we don’t have now, and it’s one of the things we want in the renovated building.”

Stara said 21st-century functions of the library will need to fit into whatever size project is approved by the state. If the building is designed to be smaller than the community’s needs, the collection might have to be reduced.

“You will have to make compromises,” Stara said.

James Alexander, principal at Finegold Alexander, said the architects are planning a refurbished library that is respectful of its history. The Jones opened in 1928 and underwent an expansion 25 years ago.

“We see a fine building that has a fine presence on the streets, something we’d hate to lose, and not overwhelm,” Alexander said. “I want to make it clear we’re not tearing down the original library.”

Town Meeting action

The only action Town Meeting will take this spring related to the library is a zoning request from the neighboring Amherst History Museum, which is seeking to rezone its site from general residence to general business.

If this is successful, the museum’s board of directors could then sell a portion of the property to the library and give the architects more flexibility in designing the expansion.

The architects also are aware that Town Meeting will be taking up a citizen petition to preserve in its entirety the Kinsey Memorial Garden, which makes up the landscape of the back of the library.

“We feel it’s an obligation that we consider that as any part of change,” Alexander said.

Alexander explained that three preliminary plans show additions of 21,000 square feet, with each option estimated to cost around $33.5 million. The town would cover $20.8 million of this cost, with the state funding the remainder, if it approves the project.

A renovation of the current building would not be eligible for state funding, Stara said.

With successful rezoning, and the land sale, a three-story addition could be put at the rear of the library and cause the least disturbance to the Kinsey Memorial Garden.

A second option would also see a three-story addition built at the rear, but without rezoning this would cut the size of the garden nearly in half, to about 8,000 square feet.

The third plan would demolish the 1990s addition, replacing it with a five-story addition, though Alexander said this might not be funded because state officials prefer libraries with fewer stories.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at


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