North Amherst Library to relocate while $1.7M renovation takes place

  • North Amherst Library in 2020. Gazette file photo

Staff Writer
Monday, June 20, 2022

AMHERST — North Amherst residents will continue to have a neighborhood branch library as the project to enlarge the existing building, provide bathrooms and offer handicapped accessibility gets underway this spring.

While the $1.7 million project, being funded entirely by an anonymous donor, is expected to be undertaken by Wright Builders of Northampton, and possibly break ground in June for what will be a 10- to 11-month closure, many of the books and other materials will be relocated to the North Square mixed-use complex on Cowls Road.

Trustees for the Jones Library announced late last month that the library, located at the corner of Montague and Sunderland roads in an 1893 building, would continue operations from vacant retail space next to the Closet upcycled designer clothing store. That means that services will not merge with Amherst’s other branch library, Munson Memorial, located in South Amherst, as had been planned earlier.

The exact layout of the branch library and its hours during this construction period are not finalized. “Logistics are still being worked out,” trustee Alex Lefebvre said.

But keeping the branch library open ensures that residents in the neighborhood will have a library within walking distance or a short drive until the project, with a community room for 40 to 45 people, two bathrooms and a wheelchair lift, all attached to the rear of the existing building, is complete.

The initiative to relocate the library on a temporary basis was spearheaded by Meg Gage, a Montague Road resident, and others who are part of the District One Neighborhood Association. They approached Hannah Rechstschaffen, director of placemaking, and Arthur Haskins, director of real estate and community development, as representatives of W.D. Cowls, to see if room could be found among the 22,000 square feet of retail space.

For Cinda Jones, president of W.D. Cowls, the move makes sense, as it addresses a neighborhood challenge, as well as potentially bringing more visibility to the Mill District General Store and Local Art Gallery, and Provisions. Other stores near the new space for the library are Graze Craze charcuterie trays and Balanced Birch Pilates and gyrotonics.

“We considered carefully how we might help DONA and the library, and we realized that The Mill District donating space for the library would be mutually beneficial,” Jones said.

It came on the condition that the library expand the 20 hours it is open each week.

One plan for doing this, again pitched by Gage, is to have community volunteers assist staff, though that has to be approved by Library Director Sharon Sharry.

Closer to North Amherst center, and the existing branch library, Riverside Park shopping plaza, also overseen by Cowls, will be getting a new international grocery market in space most recently used, first as Captain Video and then as a second location of Amherst Pharmacy.