Program needs driving expansion, Jones Library staff say

  • Jones Library JERREY ROBERTS

Staff Writer
Published: 6/28/2016 10:59:49 PM

AMHERST — Space for toddlers, elementary school-age children and teenagers would more than double in a proposed expansion and renovation of the Jones Library.

For Rebecca Fricke of Railroad Street, the current limitations, with just 600 square feet dedicated to young adults, mean her two teenage daughters haven’t often used the library in recent years.

“One area I’m glad you’re focusing on is the teen area,” said Fricke, speaking Tuesday evening during a presentation on a 68,125-square-foot building proposal at a Jones Library Feasibility Committee meeting.

But some of what is being offered in the children’s and young adult areas of the library appears to duplicate the town’s Leisure Services and Supplemental Education department activities, said Rita Burke of Henry Street.

“Why are we providing yoga and arts and crafts?” Burke asked.

The meeting, which drew more than 40 residents, was an opportunity for library staff to explain how the current plan to add more than 20,000 square feet to the 47,420-square-foot building is being driven by program needs identified by staff.

The area for youth and young adults, specifically, would increase from 4,400 square feet to 9,300 square feet, with Mia Cabana, head of youth services, explaining there is limited room for shelving children’s books and for parents to park strollers.

James Alexander, principal at Finegold Alexander Architects of Boston, said the challenge is to take these program needs and translate them into a real, physical form for a project that will be submitted in January to the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners for funding.

“That’s what we’ve tried to do in listening to the staff and examining the building,” Alexander said.

In addition to adding space, any project will reduce the complexities in navigating through the 1990s expansion, Alexander said.

But even with several department heads explaining their rationale for more space, skeptics, including Vincent O’Connor of Summer Street, said they need to see written explanations for each program need before they can endorse the project.

The project, with cost estimates of around $32.5 million, would receive up to $12.5 million in state support, with the remainder coming from the town. If the state backs the project, it will be brought before Town Meeting next year.

Library Director Sharon Sharry acknowledged that there are inefficiently used spaces within the current building, but not enough to provide room for the program needs.

“In a perfect world we would not need any more square footage,” Sharry said, noting that the professional librarians on staff have been shielding patrons from the various problems.

Sharry said improving the youth and young adult sections is vital.

“I would argue the children’s department is the most important department in any library,” Sharry said.

Austin Sarat, president of the Jones Library trustees, said the vision is to have an expanded and renovated library that remains at the core of Amherst’s life.

“We want the library to be an inclusive space for everyone in the community,” Sarat said.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com




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