North Amherst Library upgrades pegged at $1M

  • The North Amherst Library, built in 1893, needs bathrooms and an elevator. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Staff Writer
Saturday, January 18, 2020

AMHERST — Projects to make the North Amherst Library handicapped accessible with public bathrooms, and add a public meeting room would cost close to $1 million, based on estimates provided by a local architect.

Town Manager Paul Bockelman recently presented to the Town Council the figures from a report completed by Kuhn Riddle Architects of Amherst, which was hired by the town in late summer to handle the work.

Bockelman said Tuesday that because upgrading the library is considered a low priority for the town, any chance of moving forward with the projects would depend almost entirely on money from an anonymous donor, who has offered to cover the costs.

“If the private donor puts money on the table, then we can begin dedicating staff time to that,” Bockelman said.

Bockelman said the report states that $750,000 in improvements are needed to make the 1893 building accessible, including installing a lift or elevator inside, a ramp and new bathrooms, and addressing structural and HVAC issues. Patrons who need to use a restroom often have to go to nearby businesses.

Using attic space as a meeting room, as some advocates have envisioned, is not feasible, Bockelman said, meaning that a community room would have to be part of an addition — a second phase that would cost around $200,000.

Last spring, the Joint Capital Planning Committee received two submissions from residents seeking town money to renovate the building by this summer. Both of those plans, one for $800,000 and the other for $750,000, were not recommended by the committee and were pushed off until the fiscal year beginning July 1, 2022.

A similar application was submitted in December to the Community Preservation Act Committee for an unspecified amount of money. The request came from Hilda Greenbaum, the wife of the late Jones Library trustee Louis Greenbaum, and two former presidents of the trustees, Merrylees “Molly” Turner and Patricia Holland.

“We are planning and raising funds for adding toilets and handicap lift to the North Amherst Library,” they wrote in the application. 

There has been discussion among officials about whether any work on the building should wait for road upgrades to the roads surrounding the library. One plan has Sunderland and Montague roads intersect north of the building in front of the Riverside Park shopping plaza, rather than immediately south of the building.

Such a reconfiguration would close Sunderland Road between the library and the former North Amherst school building, creating a continuous lawn between the town buildings.

But the town has no money for this road project and passed on the opportunity to apply for a MassWorks Infrastructure grant last year, in part, Bockelman said, because he didn’t think that earlier applications could be improved sufficiently to get awarded.

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