×

Editorial: Hadley, Amherst face choices on library projects


Thursday, July 27, 2017

The Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners’ ruling earlier this month on projects in Hadley and Amherst left each town facing a decision.

The state awarded Hadley a $3.9 million construction grant to help pay for replacing the Goodwin Memorial Library. We urge residents to approve the town’s match of a like amount at a special Town Meeting which will be scheduled for later this summer.

Hadley was one of nine communities that won state grants to construct new libraries or renovate existing buildings.

The state commissioners placed 24 communities on a waiting list, including Amherst which sought  a $13.87 million state grant to assist with renovating and expanding the Jones Library. With Amherst ninth on that list, the controversial $35.6 million project is now on hold and the town has time to set priorities for more modest repairs and improved services.

The need for a new library is clear in Hadley. Goodwin was built in 1902 at the corner of Route 9 and Middle Street. Much of the three-story, 4,500-square-foot building is inaccessible because it lacks an elevator.

Plans for the new 11,800-square-foot library include a community meeting room, children’s room, young adult space, story garden, climate controlled-room for historic collections, and a room for the Friends of the Library. There also will be space to expand the collection beyond the current 20,000 items.

“We will have basic amenities that a normal, modern library has for staff and the public,” says Patrick Borezo, the library director.

One appealing aspect of the project is the clustering of two new town buildings — the library and a senior center — at the former Hooker School site. That building, which now houses the senior center, will be demolished. There already is money available to build a $5.3 million senior center in a field behind the former school.

“This is a once-in-a-hundred-years opportunity for us,” says Jo-Ann Konieczny, chairwoman of the library trustees, adding that the two new buildings “will be part of the campus feel for the center of town.”

We agree and urge residents to approve the town’s share of the project when the special Town Meeting is held before mid-September. 

Meanwhile, the goal in Amherst now must be to reach consensus on a plan for improved library services that appeals to a broad cross section of the community. That includes setting priorities for renovations at Jones to bring it into compliance with building codes and make it fully accessible to handicapped people, including widening the space between stacks. 

The trustees should consider the town’s library system as a whole, including improvements needed at the Munson and North Amherst branches and the possibility of shifting some services to those buildings.

The state put the brakes on the $35.6 million project to enlarge the three-story Jones from 48,000 to 65,000 square feet. The original building on Amity Street opened in 1928, and an addition was completed in 1993. That addition would be demolished and the rear of the library would be extended toward the CVS Pharmacy parking lot.

The expansion would accommodate children’s and teen programming, expand the English as a Second Language instruction program and add a reading room for adults. The project also calls for completing deferred maintenance — including a new fire alarm system and elevator, and mechanical, electrical and plumbing upgrades. 

Controversial aspects of the project include demolishing the 1993 addition, which cost $5 million; losing much of the Kinsey Memorial Garden in the backyard of the building; replacing the 125-seat Woodbury Room in the basement, which was renovated in 2012 at a cost of $175,000; and the architecture of the proposed addition, which critics say is out of character with the existing building and the adjacent Amherst History museum.

Although Town Meeting endorsed applying for the state grant with a 105-94 vote in May, that is well short of the two-thirds majority that would be needed to approve borrowing the town’s share of the project, which is estimated at $15 million to $16 million.

It is encouraging that the library trustees said earlier this month they will hold four community sessions to solicit ideas and priorities going forward. Trustee Tamson Ely said it is important to have an “open and accessible process” that includes outreach to community groups.

That is critical now that the town has time to consider the most cost-effective ways to make the Jones, Munson and North Amherst libraries comfortable, welcoming and educational spaces for all residents.