OPINION: JONES LIBRARY’S PROPOSED DEMOLITION/EXPANSION PROJECT DESIGN: STILL NOT READY FOR PRIME TIME

Jones Library. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

An aspect of the Jones Library’s proposed demolition/expansion project that’s eluded attention is its disregard of Massachusetts historic preservation law.  The Jones is on the State Register of Historic Places and the National Register of Historic Places. The historic preservation law protects the historic 1928 Jones Library, inside as well as out.

In addition, a Historic Preservation Restriction Agreement that the Library Trustees signed in 2017 protects the historic Library’s exterior from demolition and other alterations. This Restriction was in exchange for $140,000 in Community Preservation Act historic preservation funds, to restore the Library’s original slate roof and chimneys. 

Nonetheless, the proposed demolition/expansion project would not only demolish all of the Library’s accessible 1993 addition. It would also alter the original Library’s exterior, which this Preservation Restriction protects. If the Trustees ever noticed that their Restriction conflicts with their proposed project’s design, they have never had their architects address this.  

Likewise unmentioned are additional costs for the Trustees’ mandatory consultation process with the Massachusetts Historical Commission (“Mass. Historical”). These consultations are to “eliminate, minimize, and mitigate” the proposed project’s “adverse effects” on any State Register property. 

“Adverse effects” are effects on a State Register property’s historical, architectural, archaeological, or cultural qualities. Here they include altering the Library’s Amity Street setting to add two curved, graded walkways; installing a permanent, Plexiglas-type canopy over the Library’s iconic, Connecticut Valley split-pediment main entrance; and gutting many of the 1928 Library’s homelike rooms, with their fireplaces and hand-carved woodwork. 

To initiate consultations, the Trustees must provide Mass. Historical with (1) complete photographic coverage of proposed work locations on the Library’s exterior and interior, keyed to sketch maps or floor plans; and (2) a detailed project description, noting what exterior and interior sections of the building will be removed, and whether they will be stored for future use. That the architects will need another contract to prepare these materials, and to contribute to consultations with Mass. Historical, seems inescapable. 

The public can provide written proposals for prudent and feasible ways to eliminate “adverse effects.” But the Trustees are not yet ready to send anything to Mass. Historical. 

The Trustees’ initial proposed design failed to qualify for even the lowest level of LEED certification. To recommend sustainability features, they are currently paying Finegold Alexander Architects an additional $46,000. How must their proposed design be altered to incorporate such features? Unknown. How much will sustainability features add to this proposed project’s total cost of $49 million, including interest?  Also, unknown. 

Until Mass. Historical and the Trustees reach a written agreement on specified alternatives, or until they reach an impasse, the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners (MBLC) “shall not proceed” with a project that would have “adverse effects” on a State Register property. See 950 Code of Massachusetts Regulations, sections 71.07 (4) & (5); 71.11.

Yet, depending on funding, the MBLC Is reportedly set to “proceed” by awarding a construction grant to Amherst this July or August. 

As suggested above, the present state of the proposed project’s design can be fairly described as incoherent. By when will the Trustees have a final project design? I mean one with which Mass. Historical agrees, which fulfills additional requirements, and which thus is eligible for state funding? Anyone who thinks it’ll be by August might have another think coming.

Sarah McKee is Past President, Jones Library Board of Trustees; Former General Counsel, Interpol U.S. National Central Bureau, Washington, D.C.; Member, D.C. Bar.  

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2 thoughts on “OPINION: JONES LIBRARY’S PROPOSED DEMOLITION/EXPANSION PROJECT DESIGN: STILL NOT READY FOR PRIME TIME

  1. Taking out new work that had been done to the Jones Library, to do new work to the library. Sounds as if the old “new work” wasn’t well thought-out in the first place, and at big dollars then and now. How whimsical!

  2. Indeed.

    The present Woodbury Room in the Jones Library’s basement was renovated thoroughly in about 2012. The cost was $175,000. The funds came from the generous bequest and trust of Professor and Mrs. Woodbury. The carpeting is guaranteed for 25 years. If memory serves, architect John Kuhn won an architectural award for the project. He well deserved it.

    The Library’s proposed demolition/expansion project would demolish the Woodbury Room completely, then replace it with a larger Large Meeting Room. This new Large Meeting Room would be in the very same location as the Woodbury Room (with some outside overlap). ‘Whimsical’ is an interesting word for this!

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