North Amherst Library upgrades advance at Town Meeting

  • North Amherst Library

Staff Writer
Thursday, November 16, 2017

AMHERST — A series of improvements to the North Amherst Library, including adding a bathroom for patrons and making the building handicapped accessible, cleared a key hurdle Monday night.

At the third and final fall Town Meeting session, members voted 100-73 to allocate $50,000 from the $3.8 million available in free cash to hire an architect to complete designs for installing a bathroom and an elevator in the 1893 town-owned building.

Precinct 1 Town Meeting member Patricia Holland, a former president of the trustees for the Jones Library and a member of Friends of the North Amherst Library, said the intent is to make the building’s three floors fully accessible, to finish more space and make the building energy efficient.

The decision came over the objections of both the Select Board and trustees, who instead favored having it referred to the boards so that the spending could work its way through the traditional process of review by the Joint Capital Planning Committee, an eight-member panel that examines projects at town, school and library properties. That was defeated 92-79.

Select Board member James Wald said he understands the needs of the building, but that the request should have a process that is transparent, rational, predictable and fair.

Christopher Hoffmann, of Precinct 7 and a library trustee, said trustees need time to examine plans for the branch.

“This is not going to be a forgotten issue from the trustees or the director or the staff,” Hoffmann said.

In fact, improving the building is one of three goals for Library Director Sharon Sharry, and is also in an action plan that identifies gaps in service and deficiencies in the branch libraries, said Alex Lefebvre of Precinct 10 and a trustee.

Town Meeting members, though, objected to referring the article out of concern that nothing might be done with the building.

“I’m just concerned that this will just go back down to the bottom of the list,” said Mary Sayer of Precinct 3.

Forty years of waiting is long enough, said Alan Root of Precinct 5.

“This issue has been talked about and talked about and talked about and we need to take it out of the hands of the trustees of the library,” Root said.

Ruth Hazzard of Precinct 3 said hiring an architect would cause no harm. “It moves the whole thing forward, which is so important,” she said.

Another former trustees president, Sarah McKee, said after the vote that it is vital the town hire an architect as soon as possible and have plans ready for funding by annual Town Meeting.

“It’s very important the town move as quickly as possible so our children needn’t cross Montague Road to ask to use restrooms in the businesses,” McKee said.

Town Manager Paul Bockelman said he isn’t sure how soon an architect can be hired, noting that he needs to have staff manage the process, and that a new town and school facilities director to replace the retired Ron Bohonowicz has not yet happened.

It’s uncertain how much any work would cost, but Holland said Community Preservation Act and private donations could be a funding source.

“I’m sure North Amherst residents will come through with financial support, as they did with the original building,” Holland said.

Other action at TM

In other business, Town Meeting defeated a proposed bylaw that would have made it easier for parking garages to be privately developed or built using public-private partnerships; endorsed an End of Life Options Act that the Legislature is considering; and made tweaks to footnotes in the use and dimensional standards table in the zoning bylaw.

The parking garage bylaw, brought by the Planning Board at the encouragement of the business community, was defeated 104-58 and failing to muster even a majority. The measure called for the Planning Board to do site plan review of private parking garages in several districts, including general business, village center business and commercial, where special permits have been required.

Planning Board member Gregory Stutsman said the change was designed to mitigate barriers to building garages and provide more options for the town to pursue strategies for adding parking.

Clare Bertrand of Precinct 8 said she saw it as a good opportunity to share the cost of developments with private developers. “I don’t see this as being a problem,” Bertrand said

“I think we very much need more parking in our downtown,” said Nina Mankin of Precinct 1.

But James Oldham of Precinct 5 said there is no evidence that such projects can’t be approved under tighter zoning. “Why should we doubt that the door isn’t already open?” Oldham said.

Making developments easier is a concern, said Carol Gray of Precinct 7. “We do not want to lose our opportunity as a town to say no to a development that is horribly out of place in our downtown,” she said.

Mothers Out Front rally

Prior to Town Meeting, about 15 members of Mothers Out Front and Climate Action Now gathered at the entrance to the middle school auditorium to express appreciation to Town Meeting members for adopting the zero energy bylaw that will mandate all new buildings and additions that cost over $1 million be zero energy. Zero energy means buildings produce as much energy as they use over the course of a year, and for supporting a resolution calling for the town to use 100 percent renewable energy.

Holding signs reading “zero hero” and “100 percent awesome,” members solicited signatures and handed out information sheets as part of a mobilization kickoff, said Precinct 4 Town Meeting member Andra Rose.

“We’re going to continue working on this,” Rose said.

Rose said it is imperative that town officials get assistance as they move forward with a new Department of Public Works headquarters and a fire station for South Amherst.

“We will work with the Select Board and DPW/Fire Station Advisory committee to seek funds from state and federal governments, and private grants, and to connect officials and committees with experts who can answer technical questions,” Rose said.

Amherst is believed to be the first in the state to adopt a zero-energy bylaw.

“We know this will be hard work and we will put the hard work in,” Rose said.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com