Voters back Jones Library project in Amherst

  • Patrons enter the Jones Library in Amherst on Friday, Oct. 29, 2021. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • The fiction room for grades 5 and up in the west wing of the Jones Library in Amherst. Photographed on Friday, Oct. 29, 2021. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

Staff Writer
Published: 11/2/2021 10:24:51 PM

AMHERST — A $36.3 million renovation and expansion of the Jones Library will proceed after voters at Tuesday’s biennial election overwhelmingly affirmed the Town Council’s April decision in favor of the project.

By a nearly two-thirds majority, with 3,187 saying yes and 1,683 voting no, based on unofficial results compiled by the town clerk’s office, voters gave support to a project that 10 of the 12 councilors approved and which also has unanimous support from the library’s elected trustees.

Kent Faerber, chairman of the Vote Yes For Our Library committee, said the vote shows significant approval for the project.

“There is no doubt that voters want a library that is accessible to all, provides services that are unmet and will dramatically reduce Amherst’s overall use of fossil fuels,” Faerber said.

“Now work can begin on details for the renovations and expansion,” Faerber added. “Over the next six months, there will be many opportunities for residents to share ideas and opinions as detailed plans are developed to ensure the promise of a project that is the smart choice for Amherst on all levels, financially, environmentally and socially.”

Amherst Forward political action committee, which endorsed the library project, issued a statement that its volunteers and voters are realizing a dynamic and progressive vision for the town.

“Thanks to these combined efforts, we can move forward with fiscally responsible planning for a renovated library that will better serve all of our community,” said Katherine Appy, chairwoman of Amherst Forward.

“We also look forward to supporting the efforts of our newly elected representatives to create a more sustainable and vibrant downtown, expand affordable housing opportunities, improve our schools, and protect our open spaces.”

Terry Johnson, who led the Start Over Smart campaign, thanked supporters and voters who studied the proposal and determined it would be too large, expensive and wasteful, and was planned with scant input from members of the diverse community.

“Although we’re disappointed, we’re satisfied that our efforts have led to a dual focus on sustainability and social justice that was not part of the original planning process,” Johnson said, adding that the group’s website, votenostartoversmart.com, continues to have information about the project.

Town Council’s 10-2 vote last spring authorized $15.75 million in borrowing, but a voter veto petition effort was launched shortly afterward. Even though the town clerk and Board of Registrars determined an insufficient number of signatures had been gathered, continued legal challenges over the veto campaign in Hampshire Superior Court prompted councilors to put the referendum on the ballot.

Plans call for rehabilitating the original 1928 structure and replacing the 1993 addition, increasing the size of the Amity Street building from 48,000 to 63,000 square feet, while modernizing the interior, providing sufficient space for services and making numerous repairs to air-handling systems, wiring, carpets and elevators.

Town Manager Paul Bockelman said the affirmative vote allows the town to continue planning for the project and for him to complete appointments to a library building committee.

The town’s commitment matches a $13.87 million construction grant from the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners, and an expected $6.6 million from other private and public sources, including $1 million already coming from the town’s Community Preservation Act account that will go toward a new special collections room.

Though the Jones is one of four major building projects planned in Amherst, Bockelman and Finance Director Sean Mangano have crafted a plan in which just one project, a new elementary school, would have to be brought to voters for a Proposition 2½ debt exclusion override.

The other projects are a Department of Public Works headquarters, with no site yet identified, and a fire station for South Amherst that likely would be constructed where the DPW is currently located on South Pleasant Street.

Plans being developed for the library by Finegold Alexander Architects of Boston include providing a bigger children’s room so that more families can participate in programs, having a dedicated teen room, creating an enlarged and climate-controlled area for special collections, and improving space for the English as a Second Language program.

The project should also bring energy efficiencies in the renovated building and get the library to net-zero in terms of energy usage.

The full renovation of the existing building remedies defects, including an aging HVAC system, elevators that don’t individually access each floor and often break down, a leaky glass atrium, exposed wiring and worn carpets. Reports from architects have estimated that work alone, with no expansion of the building, at between $14.3 million and $16.8 million.

When work begins, likely sometime in 2022, library services will be offered from a different site for 72 weeks, meaning that a reopening would come in fall 2023.

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


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