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Jones Library trustees to keep expansion in public eye

  • Valerie Gracechild of Amherst reads in the atrium of the Jones Library in Amherst on Thursday afternoon, Aug. 15, 2019. FILE PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Backers of the Library are pressing for a $35.6 million overhaul of the building. JERREY ROBERTS



Staff Writer
Tuesday, August 20, 2019

AMHERST — Trustees for the Jones Library are preparing a renewed campaign to educate residents about why an expanded and renovated main branch is critical for the community.

As part of this latest push for the $35.6 million building project that depends on state funding, trustees last week agreed to spend an additional $41,100 to hire Finegold Alexander Architects of Boston to prepare new schematic designs for a 17,000-square-foot addition to the 48,000-square-foot building at 43 Amity St.

The vote was 4-1, with trustee Robert Pam the lone dissenter and trustee Christopher Hoffmann absent. 

Without having revised schematics that move a large meeting room from the first floor, trustee Tamson Ely said the plans are not viable and will not be approved by the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners. The project remains in line to get a$13.87 million state grant, and currently stands in second place on the state’s waiting list.

Ely explained that Finegold Alexander will revise its earlier concepts so people can comment on the layout and general appearance of the building, in advance of a possible funding announcement in summer 2020 or summer 2021.

Trustee Alex Lefebvre said the board needs to be in a position where it can provide the state library commissioners everything they need to give the go-ahead for funding.

“I don’t think we have the luxury of waiting,” Lefebvre said.

Pam, though, said trustees could have put a pause on revising the plans for two months

Austin Sarat, president of the board, said the new plans will be an opportunity to remind people why the renovation and expansion is an essential project for the town, which he has done repeatedly since joining the board in 2011.  

“I don’t think we’ve failed to develop a case,” Sarat said, noting that the project was central to campaigns for candidates for library trustees in 2018. The two candidates who endorsed the project won reelection.

“At every occasion, we need to remind people of the compelling case already made,” Sarat said.

Lewis Mainzer, a member of the Friends of the Jones Library, told trustees that the challenge is to get buy-in from library users who love the feel of the 1928 building and the early 1990s expansion.

“The conundrum is a lot of residents think it’s perfect the way to is,” Mainzer said,

In May 2017, though, trustees obtained a report that there were at least $8 million in renovations needed, including deferred maintenance and bringing the building up to the Americans with Disabilities Act code.

The continued problems with the current building were highlighted recently by the failure of the HVAC system in the special collections department, where the system functions around the clock due to the sensitive materials held there. The HVAC failure happened on a weekday, which Ely said was fortunate as it could have put the entire department at risk if it happened on a weekend.

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