Amherst Historical Commission OKs demolition of Jones Library addition


Staff Writer

Published: 09-19-2023 2:15 PM

AMHERST — Amherst’s Historical Commission is giving the green light for the building commissioner to issue a demolition permit so the 1990s addition to the Jones Library can be torn down, allowing the expansion and renovation of the 43 Amity St. building to proceed.

In its 4-0 vote on Thursday, with member Hetty Startup abstaining, the commission approved the project with conditions that the 1928 portion of the building not sustain any significant damage during the demolition, and that a historic fanlight window incorporated into the most recent addition, where it has been part of the special collections room, be carefully removed, stored and then reused in the $43.95 million expansion project.

Finegold Alexander Architects Principal Ellen Anselone assured the commission that the drawings it is preparing for the contractor will protect the 95-year-old building. The contractor will be “gently scooping away” the 1990s addition, Anselone said in response to Commission Chairwoman Robin Fordham asking if any damage should be expected to the historic building as the addition is pulled down.

“We have done a lot of work on historic buildings, adding to them, taking pieces off,” Anselone said. “We are very familiar with how to protect that building, so that’s high on our list.”

Anselone said the project includes saving the Belden-Whipple House fanlight window, which will be relocated to the current adult fiction room. That room, in the historic part of the library, was originally built as an auditorium.

The Belden-Whipple House, on the site now occupied by the Central fire station, was the temporary home of the Jones Library in 1926 after the library lost its space in the Amherst House fire. The Amherst House was a large building at the southwest corner of Amity and South Pleasant streets.

The commission also was comfortable that the new addition won’t dominate the view from Amity Street. Due to the lay of the land, the addition will be set below the original library.

Tony Hsiao, a principal and director of design for Finegold Alexander, said the only side of the building that will have an all-new facade is the rear, as people approach the Jones Library from the CVS Pharmacy parking lot.

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The library is a contributing structure in a National Register Historic District, said Senior Planner Nate Malloy, but little is happening with the original building that should be of concern to the commission.

The commission will discuss a historic preservation agreement it has with the library trustees on Oct. 19 at 6:30 p.m. That mandates that exterior changes to the building be approved, while the commission can provide advisory comment on changes to the inside of the building.

One of those changes that sparked some discussion was the enclosing of a portion of the rear of the 1928 building, with a Palladian three-section window on the second floor being moved to the first floor. The change will be visible only on the interior of the new building.

During public comment, Sarah McKee, a former library trustee, said the commission should delay any decisions until the library plans are submitted for review to the Massachusetts Historical Commission, and all exterior and interior changes that would constitute “adverse effects” on a state Register of Historic Properties building are identified.

“I think this request is premature,” McKee said of the demolition permit.

“I find it absolutely unaccountable that the trustees and the town have not fulfilled their legal responsibility to submit their materials to the Massachusetts Historical Commission and to participate in the public consultation process to eliminate, mitigate and minimize those adverse effects,” McKee said.

Jeff Lee of South East Street said he wants to the the writers’ cubicles on the third floor and the woodwork in the original director’s office kept intact.  “There’s some nice woodwork in there,” Lee said. Hilda Greenbaum of Montague Road asked what would be happening to the east staircase adjacent to the director’s office.

Trustees President Austin Sarat, who praised the design as giving adequate space for children and teens, and more ample reading rooms for adults, said the trustees and the project team have repeatedly been in touch with state officials and are in compliance with all requirements for review.

Ginny Hamilton, who has managed the capital campaign, notes that removing the 1993 addition will protect the truly historic part of the building from ongoing damage, such as the leaks from the atrium roof.

“I appreciate that what is being taken away is the newest addition and would like to point out this newest addition is what is currently causing harm to the library,” Hamilton said.

Before abstaining from the vote, Startup said her concern over removing the addition is because it took design cues from the original.  “This is a building that was intended to fit with the historic building of 1928,” Startup said.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at]]>