Opinion: Three Local Library Directors Discuss Completed Building Projects

Atrium in the Jones Library constructed as part of a 1993 renovation. The atrium, which leaks, is slated to be demolished under the new expansion plan. Photo: Art Keene.

Terry S. Johnson

The Jones Library Trustees held a “Library Chat” on Thursday, August 20th from 7:00 to 8:00 PM with three local Library Directors answering questions about their recent building projects ‒ Antonia Golinski-Foisy of the West Springfield Public Library, John Rodio of South Hadley, and Jean Shaughnessy of Athol.

Jones Director Sharon Sharry and Library Trustee President Austin Sarat led the questioning. Only three audience members asked questions. Two were affiliated with the Jones.

This is the second session in a new series to inform the public about the library’s proposed demolition/expansion project. The series is the first public outreach about the Jones proposed building project since two public forums held in 2016. 

The meeting recording will be posted on the Jones Library Agenda Center under “Board of Trustees, August 20th.” 

The attached chart presents information about these three libraries and the Jones, comparing population, square footage and costs. 

LEED Certification
All three libraries applied for Green Library Initiative Awards and are LEED certified.  

The Jones did not apply for such a grant and lost up to $450,000. However, the Trustees are investigating if they can afford to pay for targeted energy conservation measures and/or a possible timber frame structure. Decisions will be made at a future date with recommendations from the Sustainability Committee.  

Impact of Increased Space
These libraries used to be mostly “grab and go” and are now destinations for cultural, educational, civic and artistic activities. The Jones already serves as such. Our residents already appreciate the wide range of programming at the current 48,000 sq. ft. library.

All three directors felt that their projects gave them significantly more meeting space, including some providing rooms for their city government meetings, police and DPW training, and tutoring of all kinds. Athol and South Hadley both increased from 8,000 to over 20,000 sq. ft. and began providing meeting space for the first time. All guest directors mentioned that usage increased dramatically and that handicapped accessibility was key in attracting patrons who could not use the space before their new designs. They also mentioned the importance of their Teen Spaces.  

The Jones, of course, already has well-used meeting rooms of various sizes, and our many town departments have their own conference rooms. The 1993 addition is handicapped accessible.  The lower level could be made more accessible within the present footprint.  The large Goodwin Room remains unused and locked most of the time. The Jones has never explored how a designated Teen Space could be offered within the current library with reorganization. 

Athol did not do extensive fundraising for the building, only for furniture. Sheanessey felt the Friends of the Library were critical in their efforts. South Hadley raised $1 million.  West Springfield hired professionals, the Financial Development Agency, (FDA) and raised a  little over $2 million. 

FDA has been hired as one of two capital campaign consultants for the Jones project and has had significant consulting contracts with the Jones on and off for over six years. 

Austin Sarat asked if there had been opposition to these projects, and the directors replied “yes.” Rodio said that emphasizing that increasing services and not the building itself was helpful. “There will always be folks who want to hold onto the memories of the past or do not want taxes raised,” he said.  Golinski-Foisy affirmed that having Trustees who personally advocated for the project in the community was critical.

Maintenance and Staffing
Did maintenance costs escalate? There were increases but, if you consider the price of cleaning per square foot, the cost is less than the older structures, according to the directors. These three libraries reported only modest increases in staffing, not including maintenance.

Sarat concluded by returning to his opening statement that two “faculties” are needed in considering such a project – vision and imagination.  He thanked the directors for their vision, and said that now the Jones must continue to imagine. Sarat also asked the directors if they would address the Town Council about their successful projects.  

The Jones is second on the MBLC waiting list for a $13.8 million grant toward a total project of $35.8 million, not including debt service, cost overrides or sustainability features.   The Town  will have to fund up to $22 million. The Jones hopes to raise $6 million to offset this amount.  

We can all agree that the Jones is in dire need of attention. But have all options been examined? Even with years of planning, why have the Trustees never investigated a space reorganization of the entire current Jones Library, including our 1993 addition now set for demolition?  Why destroy a brick and mortar building which is only 25 years old? Why push this project now in our current unstable COVID environment?

LIBRARY CHAT August 20, 2020
Local Library Directors Discuss MBLC Granted Library Projects

City, Town


Original/FinalSquare Footage


Total Costw/o Debt
Athol11,753      8,000 to 21,000  $4.6  $8.6 
South Hadley17,806      8,000 to 23,000  $4.8   $7.8 
West Springfield 28,392    19,800 to 36,700  $6.2$16.1 
AmherstJones Library37,819*
51,000 users
18,593 normalized
    48,000 to 65,000 $13.8 ** million$35.8 million

* The 2010 Census shows Amherst has 37,819 residents which included university and college students. The Jones Library demolition/ expansion project was based upon a 51,100 user population. In the recently rejected Community Preservation Act grant application from the Library, the Jones admitted that the “normalized” Amherst population is 18,593. 

** The Jones received the largest grant in the 2016-2017 state application round. No doubt demolishing the entire 1993 addition at 17,800 sq. ft., rebuilding it and adding 17,000 more sq. ft. (encompassing 35,000 sq. ft. of new construction) has increased the expense.

Terry S. Johnson  is a retired Amherst teacher, blossoming poet,  and a lifelong student of art, architecture, history, and languages.  

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3 thoughts on “Opinion: Three Local Library Directors Discuss Completed Building Projects

  1. So let’s get this straight: South Hadley increased the size of their library to 1.30 sq ft per user, while the Jones Trustees feel compelled to increase the size of our library to 3.5 sq ft per user, from the current 2.58 sq ft – already twice the capacity of South Hadley and planned to balloon to almost three times the space, even though the Jones serves only 800 more borrowers. How can this over-the-top construction fest be justified?

  2. Thanks for the comparative data, Terry! This chart is telling. One additional point worth noting in this connection: the Jones Library Trustees and Director persist in saying that the Library has 48,000 square feet.

    In the spring of 2016, however, they “asked [their] architects how many square feet [they] could get for [their] Program, if all spaces were to be used most efficiently.” The answer? “51,000 s[quare] f[eet].” They posted this on the Jones website on 6 May 2016.

    That the Jones is actually 3,000 square feet larger than we’re being told makes it all the more vital for a professional library space designer to recommend how “all spaces [can] be used most efficiently.”

    When will the Trustees (finally) spring $15,000 or even $20,000 for the purpose? With all the other tens of thousands of dollars that they’re spending for this study or that, it would doubtless be money well spent.

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