North Amherst Library renovation project remains uncertain

  • Jones Library trustees must decide the planning process for how to move ahead with renovations to North Amherst Library, pictured here. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 12/4/2018 11:41:58 PM

AMHERST — Even though town officials were directed by Town Meeting more than a year ago to begin the process for renovating the North Amherst Library, uncertainty remains about how soon any project at the 125-year-old town-owned building might commence.

With focus for the elected Jones Library trustees being on the $35.6 million renovation and expansion of the Jones Library building in town center, and a planning process underway for how to improve both branch libraries, trustees are still discussing whether they should get improvements for the North Amherst site on the Joint Capital Planning Committee’s long-term schedule.

Library Director Sharon Sharry told trustees at a recent meeting that officials are still waiting for cost estimates from Kuhn Riddle Architects of Amherst, the company hired after Town Meeting in fall 2017 appropriated $50,000 to pay for designs that would include adding an accessible bathroom and elevator to the 1893 building. Town Meeting also recommended making the basement and attic part of the building’s usable space.

The costs of the immediate work would likely be around $800,000, Sharry said.

Sharry said what trustees must determine is whether it is worthwhile to request this money when the library is already asking for a match to pay for the major capital project at the main branch on Amity Street.

“The board needs to decide whether to advocate for it in FY20, or later,” Sharry said.

Library trustee Tamson Ely said trustees are seeking $15 million as a match, divided over fiscal years 2021 and 2022, for the main Jones Library branch project, with an expectation that the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners will provide a $13.87 million grant in the next year or two. The town is getting closer to the top of the wait list after other communities have been funded, including $3.9 million for a new library in Hadley announced in 2017, and $9.38 million for a new library in Greenfield announced in July.

The plans for the Jones Library, developed by Finegold Alexander Architects of Boston, call for adding 17,000 square feet to the current 48,000-square-foot building by demolishing the 1993 addition and extending an addition toward the Kinsey Memorial Garden and the CVS Pharmacy parking lot at the rear.

Austin Sarat, president of the trustees, said his concern in prioritizing the North Amherst branch is pitting the main branch renovation and expansion against work needed at the smaller library buildings, and potentially compromising the ongoing planning process for the branches, which has included getting feedback from the public via surveys and holding listening sessions.

In addition, Sarat said it makes little sense for trustees to request funding for what is a town building. In fact, Sarat said he is “befuddled” by why trustees are responsible for asking for this money, likening it to trustees decided to seek money for a new Department of Public Works headquarters.

Library trustees Alex Lefebvre said that the North Amherst branch being a town-owned building is also her concern, and questions prioritizing asking for between $500,000 and $1 million when trustees aren’t in charge of the building.

“Do we have resources for both? How do we prioritize?” Lefebvre said.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com

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