North Amherst Library. Photo: Wikimedia/Creative Commons

by  Hilda Greenbaum

The North Amherst Library is owned by the Town of Amherst but is managed by the Jones Library Board of Trustees. The Friends of the Jones Library System describes itself as an advocate for all three of Amherst’s libraries.  Yet the lovely North Amherst structure, which is heavily used during its relatively limited hours, has been overlooked by both officials and the library advocacy group.

In November, 2017, a Special Town Meeting appropriated $50,000 to fund the design of a plan for significant improvements to the building. The most critical renovations would make the building accessible to those with disabilities, and provide public restrooms for library users. A feasibility committee, which included Pat Holland,  former president of the Jones Library Trustees, and members of Kuhn-Riddle Architects, along with town and library staff, has produced a report that can be read here.

North Amherst Library built in 1893 between Montague and Sunderland Roads with Ward Cook’s blacksmith shop to the right. .   Photo: Jones Library Archives/ Friends of the Jones Library System

Two former presidents of the Jones Library trustees,  Pat Holland and Molly Turner, and I approached Town Manager Paul Bockelman this winter, and then filed a resident’s request to the  Joint Capital Planning Committee on March 15, 2019, to fast-track the project,  adding the North Amherst Library to the Capital Budget.  We asked that between $750,000 and $800,000 be allocated as a “place-saver” amount in the capital budget to be reserved for work on the North Amherst Library.

On April 1, Town Manager Paul Bockelman noted in his report to the Town Council under “North Amherst Library” that had “integrated the proposed changes into the Town’s capital plan for the year 2022” and that a group of residents has expressed interest in raising funds privately to help pay for the project.

We asked that the most costly of the proposals, called “Scheme C”  (see below) by Kuhn-Riddle Architects, be placed on the schedule of capital projects and implemented as quickly as possible.

It is a disgrace that a town building that is heavily used by both adults and neighborhood children has neither restrooms and is not accessible, given that the Americans with Disabilities Act was passed nearly thirty years ago. Worse, the unkempt eyesore between the North Amherst Library and the Mill River, which has been owned by the Town since 2016, could be a magnificent landscaped North Amherst Village Center. It regrettably now features an abandoned gas station and rusty light poles. For those coming into Amherst from Sunderland, it creates an unflattering gateway to the town that surely was never envisioned in the town’s Master Plan.

Three design possibilities for the North Amherst Library were submitted.  The smallest calls for an addition of a little over 500 square feet, including  two bathrooms and a lift, at an estimated cost of $135,000 to $150,000. The next level of renovation would add 1,540 square feet for $385,000 to $539,000. The third design, Scheme C, provides not only the critical needs, but would also add a community room. Such a space has been sadly lacking in North Amherst since the North Church was sold. Scheme C would also provide more space for books, accessible shelving, and a more spacious work area for librarians.

The proposals are for construction in the arts-and-crafts style of the original 1893 building. Neighbors and patrons have indicated a willingness to raise some of the required funds privately. The amount will depend on when building plans can be furnished and approved, but  my hope is that construction can be started, finished, and a new addition open to the public by the summer of 2020.

North Amherst Library Feasibility Study Scheme A. Photo: Kuhn Riddle Architects ,https://drive.google.com/drive/u/2/folders/1IeT57Qa2rzvM0JCAJY7Pplpty-wHN_Xd

North Amherst Library Feasibility Study Scheme B. Photo: Kuhn Riddle Architects. https://drive.google.com/drive/u/2/folders/1IeT57Qa2rzvM0JCAJY7Pplpty-wHN_Xd
North Amherst Library Feasibility Study Scheme C. Photo: Kuhn Riddle Architects


The cost estimates above are for construction only, and the site preparation, architect’s fees, and repairs on the original building would be additional. However, the  sums mentioned here are not huge in proportion to an $83 million annual town budget, and are in line with the unexpended funds that may be left at the end of a fiscal year.  Building the smaller, 500 sq. ft. addition in the near future would not preclude expanding the library further at a later time.

New apartment buildings in North Amherst will bring more residents to this part of town, who would benefit from an improved library nearby. It is my hope that the town will move forward, and quickly, with a plan to make the North Amherst Library better, more comfortable, and ready to serve readers of the future.

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