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Trustees to seek more input on Jones Library project

  • Jones Library GAZETTE FILE PHOTO



Staff Writer
Thursday, July 13, 2017

AMHERST — Whether or not the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners gives the go-ahead this week for the town to embark immediately on the expansion and renovation of Jones Library, elected trustees anticipate beginning a community engagement process to guide the final design of the 43 Amity St. building.

At the trustees meeting Thursday, members of the board said they hope to have Finegold Alexander Architects of Boston meet with residents and patrons at four sessions, soliciting ideas and priorities for the project in advance of Town Meeting being asked to commit the town’s $35.6 million share.

Finegold Alexander Architects handled the preliminary design work and concepts approved by Town Meeting in May.

Trustee Tamson Ely said it is important to create an “open and accessible process” that includes outreach to community groups.

“The issue is how do we engage members of the community and how does that information get to other members of the community,” Ely said.

Ely said during the initial phase, with Finegold Alexander presenting sketches of a project, there was a sense from some that the community hadn’t been sufficiently involved.

Aspects of the project have been controversial, including the possibility of demolishing the 1993 addition in its entirety to add roughly 17,000 square feet to the building, and the effects on the Kinsey Memorial Garden that forms the back yard of the library. A group known as Save Our Library has formed.

Certain aspects of the proposal can't be changed, including the 64,758-square-foot building, the services that would be housed in it and making the building fully accessible.

But “design priorities” are up for discussion, according to trustees. These include the extent of preservation of the original 1928 building, the appearance of the addition, and the look and feel of interior programming space.

Also up for discussion is how far the project should move toward a net-zero energy building design, and whether LEED certification (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) should be sought.

The $25,000 cost for the work, including paying the architects for each session and other associated fees, won’t be included in the state grant, if the town receives it from the state library commission July 13. Amherst is one of 20 communities that received planning and design grants in 2014.

Libray Director Sharon Sharry said officials will need to figure out how to raise the money. Finegold’s work will not include renderings, which would be significantly more expensive.

Still, Trustees President Austin Sarat said the engagement process will lead to more design work for the library, something that would typically happen after money for the project is already appropriated by the town.

Trustee Christopher Hoffmann said setting design priorities through at least four community meetings should reassure residents about the project.