Plan for Jones Library in Amherst gets mixed reviews

  • Jones Library JERREY ROBERTS

Staff Writer
Published: 7/28/2016 1:45:21 AM

AMHERST – A building aimed at meeting the needs of the Amherst community, with extensive natural light and a more open floor plan that is easier for patrons to navigate and for staff to manage, is depicted by the preliminary plan for an expanded and renovated Jones Library.

With an Oct. 7 deadline looming to submit schematic drawings and a project cost estimate to the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners, a building information session Wednesday evening was the first opportunity for residents to see how the 1928 original building would be altered and the more recent 1990s addition, including the atrium, would be demolished and replaced.

About 25 people attended the 90-minute session.

The current plan adds about 17,000 square feet to the 48,000-square-foot building, said Tony Hsiao, principal at Finegold Alexander Architects of Boston.

Based on the building program, developed with participation by library staff and patrons, the expanded building would be just under 65,000 square feet, Hsiao said, adding that there would be "no easy way to work within the existing footprint."

The plan shows a centrally located single staircase and elevator connecting all four levels the building.

On the ground level, or garden level as Hsiao calls it, the expanded building would include space for its English as a Second Language program, the special collections department and the technical services department where materials are delivered.

On the main level, the circulation desk is moved closer to the Amity Street entrance, with a cafe area on the opposite side, where people can drink coffee and pastries purchased at downtown shops.  A large children's room and a smaller distinct young adult space would be on this floor, along with meeting room that can accommodate 200 people and can be closed off from the rest of the library for after-hours use.

On the second floor, the entire adult collection would be housed below what Hsiao describes as a sawtooth-style roof featuring windows facing north and solar panels facing south. This new area would be attached to the second floor of the original 1928 building, where interior walls will be taken down so that a large reading room is created overlooking Amity Street.

The small third floor will retain the existing Goodwin Room and staff offices.

Hsiao said the plan addresses functional issues, such as the circulation desk being too distant from the main entrance and the lack of space for teenagers, and more serious problems, such as stacks too close together, making them inaccessible to handicapped people.

William Wehrli, of Carriage Lane, said the concept appears to make the library more welcoming for all users, especially teenagers.

“I think it’s really time to move forward,” Wehrli said. “This is the commonsand we really need to make these spaces work for people.”

His daughter, Christina Wehrli, who will be a ninth grader at Amherst Regional High School in the fall, said she uses the library, but isn’t often able to stay because of insufficient space. “I mainly go and get books and then leave,” she said.

She said a larger library would be attractive for her and her friends as a central meeting place after school or on the weekends.

Cheryl Wilson, a former trustees president, said she is impressed with the plan, but disappointed with the modern appearance, including too much use of glass, and the loss of the home-style elements incorporated into the original design by its benefactor, Samuel Minot Jones.

“What has always appealed to long-time residents is the rabbit warren kind of feel,” Wilson said.

Others also expressed concerns about changing the charm of the building and its nooks and crannies.

"Every time I see this, I cry," said Hilda Greenbaum of Montague Road, pointing to what she views as a devastating loss of the historic interior of the 1928 building, including removal of the grand staircase that people see when going through the main door.

But Hsiao said this historical staircase will be reused in the addition and placed against what was formerly the exterior of the 88-year-old building, so patrons can see and honor the original building.

Save Our Library member Mary Wentworth of Lessey Street said her worry is demolition of 40 percent of the building and loss of cozy areas, like the alcove beneath the staircase. She described the plan as “basically (gutting) the rest of it.”

Finegold Alexander has indicated it will need six weeks to complete the drawings, two weeks to get cost estimates and one week to verify those estimates. After the October submission, the next step will be submitting a construction grant application in January.

To see the plan online, visit http://www.joneslibrary.org/buildingproject.

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


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