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Jones director: Library project full steam ahead

  • Former projection room at Jones Library. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO



Staff Writer
Thursday, August 10, 2017

AMHERST — While improvements to the 1928 Jones Library are on hold, library officials believe the state is endorsing the expansion and renovation project by putting it on a funding waiting list.

Critics of the project, however, see being wait-listed as an opportunity to revisit the plans. They would like to change the size and scale, make it using green building principles and include the two branches, along with the Jones, in the project.

Library Director Sharon Sharry said in an email last week that that won’t happen, and that the project remains “full-steam ahead.” She said being ninth on the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners’ waiting list, and approved for $13.87 million, is a positive development, especially if the project previously won the OK from Town Meeting to seek the funding.

“We will not be reducing the size of the building, off-shoring any of our services or changing our site, as any of those suggestions would negate our grant application and result in a much larger project cost to the town,” Sharry said.

In a letter to the Daily Hampshire Gazette, former trustees president Merrylees “Molly” Turner wrote that the delay could mean a “new atmosphere of mutual respect and open-mindedness to rethink the library together, including consideration for all three Amherst libraries.”

But Austin Sarat, president of the trustees, said the board previously considered branch libraries and decided that residents are best served by not dispersing services and maintaining the Jones as a center for people of all ages and socioeconomic groups.

State officials, he noted, agreed. “The state has endorsed the project, the state has not put the branches on the project,” Sarat said.

The plans for the Jones, developed by Finegold Alexander Architects of Boston, call for adding 17,000 square feet to the current 48,000-square-foot building by demolishing the 1993 addition and extending an addition toward the Kinsey Memorial Garden and the CVS Pharmacy parking lot at the rear.

While various improvements are needed to the Jones Library, such as to carpets and the atrium roof in the 1993 section, Sharry said these would cost more to do outside the project and thus will remain included in the plans. Only necessary and immediate repairs would otherwise be done.

“Except in the case of an emergency, so as to save the town’s money, deferred maintenance issues will remain deferred until we receive the grant,” Sharry said.

If an emergency does develop, money can be sought through the Joint Capital Planning Committee process, she said.

With the Jones on the state waiting list, the project must remain within the scope of the building program. This means, based on the rule set by the state, that the square footage of the project can’t be reduced, no major program can be eliminated, the site has to remain the same and the same level of eligible costs have to be covered.

Meanwhile, at the branches, the North Amherst Library and Munson Memorial Library, any work would be independent of the Jones’ project. Sharry said she anticipates library officials will continue seeking improvements to the infrastructure of both buildings, including making the North Amherst branch accessible and providing a permanent bathroom for customers, and various interior fixes at Munson.

“Both the town and the library trustees value the branches, and these buildings will continue to be cared for thoughtfully, methodically and appropriately,” Sharry said.

Terry Johnson, who has been an opponent of the expansion, this week sent a payment $530.66 to provide a port-a-potty in North Amherst for two months, with the town overseeing its siting.

Town Manager Paul Bockelman said the restroom will soon be installed.

Other changes are being undertaken by the town, including installation of jersey barriers at the Montague Road entrances preventing people from using the former Village Auto Service as a cut through. This will make it safer for the patrons than parking along Sunderland and Montague roads, and Bockelman encourages vehicles to use the lot.

“We want people to park there,” Bockelman said, adding that spaces will soon be striped.

Eventually the former service station building will be demolished, though there is no immediate timeline for that to happen.

Later this week Bockelman said the town will submit an application to the MassWorks infrastructure program that will provide money to bring Sunderland Road to form a T-intersection at Montague Road in front of the Riverside Park shopping plaza, and build proper sidewalks and walking paths.

Bockelman said the idea is to create a real village center that will promote safety of pedestrians from the library to nearby sites, including the Amherst Survival Center and the Mill District development on Cowls Road.

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