North Amherst Library upgrade gets green light

  • The town is moving ahead with upgrades to the North Amherst Library, which will include adding restrooms and an elevator. Gazette file photo

Staff Writer
Published: 2/13/2020 10:25:49 PM
Modified: 2/13/2020 10:25:38 PM

AMHERST — The town gave the go-ahead this week to accept between $750,000 and $1.15 million from an anonymous donor to make the North Amherst Library handicapped accessible and add restrooms and a community room to the building.

The Town Council told Town Manager Paul Bockelman on Monday to pursue the capital work at the 127-year-old building, so long as the donor comes through with the money to cover all expenses related to planning and construction.

Though coming at virtually no cost to the town, Bockelman told councilors that without their support he wouldn’t continue dedicating staff time to the project because the library upgrades are not an immediate priority for the town.

Bockelman said the anonymous benefactor understands that no work on the building will take place without the private money. “But for private funding, this project would not be advanced,” Bockelman said.

The building, which is owned by the town, has no public restrooms and no ramp, lift or elevator for those with disabilities to get inside.

“There’s an urgency with the anonymous donor who wants to see this happen,” Bockelman said.

Plans drawn up by Kuhn Riddle Architects of Amherst, which have not yet been publicly released, would give the building restrooms and a lift or elevator.

But Bockelman said it’s unlikely that, once inside the building, a person in a wheelchair would be able to get into the stacks. That might mean requiring patrons with disabilities to request materials at the main desk.

Once money is donated, the town can put out a request for proposal for the work, both the accessibility portion and the community room addition.

Town staff would then be involved in a public engagement process to get input from residents about how they envision the project.

Councilors said they understand there might be added costs to maintain a larger building, and coordination with library officials might be needed on oversight of the community room. Most, though, said the gift should be appreciated.

“It’s an absolutely wonderful idea and there’s no reason not to go forward,” District 2 Councilor Pat DeAngelis said.

“The generosity is amazing,” District 1 Councilor Cathy Schoen said.

District 3 Councilor George Ryan said his one worry is that work at the branch could be happening at the same time that the main Jones Library will be awarded a state grant for an expansion and renovation project.

Other concerns mostly centered on making sure the project didn’t impact other plans for the North Amherst neighborhood.

District 4 Councilor Evan Ross said any expansion of the building shouldn’t impede potential changes to the roads near the library, with a reconfiguration of where Sunderland and Montague roads intersect, and upgraded sidewalks, in the planning stages.

Bockelman said Department of Public Works Superintendent Guilford Mooring has examined the plans for the building and determined they would not be in the way of other construction.

And At Large Councilor Alisa Brewer cautioned that there can be unintended consequences from gifts, pointing to the Kinsey Memorial Garden at the Jones Library, given in 1999 by Carol Pope in memory of her late husband, David Chapin Kinsey. The expansion and renovation of the Jones Library, if and when it happens, will impact that landscape at the rear of the Amity Street building.

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

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