Expanded Jones Library design receives unanimous support in Amherst

By SCOTT MERZBACH

Staff Writer

Published: 01-02-2023 11:29 AM

AMHERST — Final schematic design elements for an expanded and renovated Jones Library, including putting the art gallery near the basement entrance and moving the young adult area to the second floor, are being endorsed by the Jones Library Building Committee.

Representatives of Finegold Alexander Architects of Boston recently received unanimous support for the plans from the committee, with Library Director Sharon Sharry, who serves on the panel, saying that staff is thrilled that its requests are being honored.

“You all knocked it out of the park with this version,” Sharry said at the committee’s Dec. 15 meeting. “This is genuinely, functionally speaking the best set of plans and layout we’ve seen since the beginning.”

Josephine Penta, senior associate architect for Finegold Alexander, said the approval will allow the architectural team to move to the design development stage in January and have those documents submitted to the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners in May.

The approval means that no more major adjustments can take place in the layout, such as moving walls and staircases.

The $46.4 million project will bring the original L-shaped 1928 building, and the early 1990s addition that added an atrium, from 48,000 square feet to 63,000 square feet.

Library Trustees President Austin Sarat expressed his gratitude for the innovation and creativity in the plans.

“In terms of library design, this is a particularly intricate, complicated and beautiful design that you’ve come up with,” Sarat said.

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Finegold Alexander Principal Ellen Anselone said changes were made based on input from Sharry and MBLC personell, and those have solved a lot of the issues in circulation for patrons and sight lines for staff. “We feel really great about where we are,” Anselone said.

On the basement level, Anselone said there is confidence that staff are in the right places. The major move there was bringing the art gallery to the forefront in place of bathrooms, which have been moved farther to the interior. The special collections room and a dedicated room for the town’s Civil War tablets remain.

On the first floor, where the adult fiction collection is on one side and the children’s room on the other, the middle will be a place for people to enjoy coffee and snacks in a sitting area, but Sharry said there is no intention to have a cafe on site. “It’s bring your own,” Sharry said.

In the future, under different leadership, that could change. “The opportunity, the flexibility, is there if someone wants to come in and sell stuff,” Sharry said.

Town Manager Paul Bockelman, who is on the building committee, wondered if the tunnel-like feel would remain at the main entrance on the first floor.

But Sharry said an effort is being made to preserve the feel of the original building.

“I wouldn’t describe it as a tunnel, I would describe it as a gracious hallway,” Sarat added.

On the second floor, adult nonfiction and the English as a Second Language program take up most of the space, with a young adult section behind a glass wall, breaking up a much wider expanse. Committee members had questions about whether there is a need for both a ramp and a short staircase on the second floor between the 1928 building and the addition.

The third floor, exclusively in the 1928 portion of the building, will include a staff break room and lockers, and the Goodwin Room that can be used by the public and trustees.

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