A new chapter begins at renovated, expanded North Amherst Library
|Published: 02-08-2024 8:34 PM
AMHERST — Arriving at the North Amherst Library from their home a short distance away Monday afternoon, Zahir Kazazi, 5, and Elsia Kazazi, 7, parked their scooters at the base of a new staircase and chairlift, excitedly looking up from the $1.7 million addition into the original 1893 building.
“Do we have to pay?” Zahir asked his mother, Tammy.
The children then climbed the stairs into the main building, through a space where the grand fireplace had once been located, reacquainting themselves with the familiar part of the building. Heading to the children’s section, Elsia found a book and settled into a chair.
“Books are good,” Elsia said.
“This is great,” Tammy Kazazi said. “This means access to a library without having to go downtown.” She also cited the importance of having restrooms. “No bathroom here was challenging for kids,” Kazazi said.
Closed since the spring of 2022, the building is now fully accessible, with public restrooms available for the first time. The library officially reopened on Monday. The expansion of the 1,080-square-foot, town-owned building at 8 Montague Road, funded by an anonymous donor, added 1,200 square feet of space for restrooms, the chairlift between the original floor and the addition and a community room that can accommodate 40 to 45 people. The work was completed by Wright Builders of Northampton.
One of the first through the library’s new entrance from its large, dedicated parking lot was Hilda Greenbaum, a longtime North Amherst resident whose late husband, Louis, once served as an elected trustee for the Jones Library. Greenbaum said when she arrived, there was a line of people waiting to get in.
“I think it’s a miracle,” said Merrylees Turner, a former library trustees president who, along with Hilda Greenbaum and Patricia Holland, another late trustee, spearheaded a Town Meeting appropriation to study how to modernize the building.
Turner said she is an advocate for Amherst having multiple library venues. “It’s very good to have branches — it relieves pressure on the downtown Jones and serves more people than just those in downtown,” Turner said.
Meg Gage, a member of the District One Neighborhood Association, said she appreciates the project. “This is a dream come true,” Gage said. “I’m thrilled because this project keeps the heart of our town.”
The steady stream of people dropping by Monday to check out the new space included many families whose children had the opportunity to participate in a scavenger hunt, do “take-and-makes” and receive tote bags and gift certificates to the Mill District General Store.
Petra Pendroff, head of branch services, and Sarah Stroud, the assistant head of branch services, greeted patrons and checked out books throughout the afternoon and evening.
After operating from a storefront at the North Square at the Mill District for more than a year, Pendroff said the staff was just as excited to get back into the branch. “We’ve been anxious to open, too,” Pendroff said.
Pendroff said some shelf space was adjusted to make sure all spaces are fully accessible to wheelchairs. Stroud said staff tried to get books, DVDs and other materials back where they had been as much as possible, providing some continuity for patrons.
Programs are also resuming, including story hours, though these may be limited until furnishings arrive for the community room.
Others who dropped by also complimented the finished product.
“This is beautiful,” said Cushman resident Barbara Ford. “This is really wonderful,” added resident Maura Keene.
W.D. Cowls President Cinda Jones, who has led the development of the Mill District, dropped off a peace lily plant and praised the attention to detail in the building, including matching woodwork on the inside and the style of windows, including in the two bathrooms. “This is thoughtful architecture,” Jones said.
Not having restrooms previously limited the use of the building for Cory Rundle, who brought her children Eliza, 4, who was celebrating a birthday by doing a coloring activity, and Ezra, 6½, who even though he had only been to the library once before recognized that it now has more space.
“It’s double the size of the previous one,” Ezra said.
The library will be open Mondays and Wednesdays from 3:30 to 7:30 p.m., and Tuesdays, Fridays and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., and will be closed on Thursdays and Sundays.Scott Merzbach can be reached at email@example.com.