Letter: Historic Structures Report Needed Before Jones Library Expansion Project Can Move Forward

Jones Library. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Save Our Library, a grassroots group advocating for a financially prudent renovation of the Jones Library that honors state historic preservation requirements, sent the following letter to the Amherst Historical Commission for their June 16th meeting, which was postponed due to lack of a quorum. The meeting has not yet been rescheduled.  

Three important steps to assure that a renovation of the Jones Library meets preservation laws have not yet occurred.

(1) A Historic Preservation Restrictrion Agreement for the exterior has been long overdue as a requirement for receiving Community Preservation Act funding, which was completed in 2010 -11;

(2)  A Historic Structures Report analyzing the exterior and interior of the 1928 portion of the Jones Library has not been completed and was slated to be finished by August, 2017.  This information was requested by the Massachusetts Historical Commission in December, 2016;

(3)  A review by the Massachusetts Historical Commission, a requirement to receive a Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners grant, has not yet been instigated in order to eliminate, minimize, and mitigate “adverse effects” to the historic Jones.

The Historic Preservation Restriction Agreement (Preservation Restriction) that the Jones Library Trustees signed in 2017 was on the May 19 agenda of the Amherst Historical Commission (HC). Thank you very much for emphasizing that this Preservation Restriction results from the $140,000 in Community Preservation Act (CPA) grants that the Jones Trustees received in 2010 and 2011.

The 2010 CPA grant was to repair the Jones Library’s original 1928 roof, as it had been shedding slates. Workers then ascertained that the original six chimneys were in imminent danger of collapse, thus the 2011 CPA grant. The Trustees were most grateful to the CPA for what were emergency grants to preserve the Jones Library’s original roof and chimneys. They understood at

the time that these grants required them to execute a Preservation Restriction on the Library’s exterior.

You know well that the Jones Library is on both the State and National Registers of Historic Places. As we understand it, the HC’s approval of the Preservation Restriction is important, in that it accepts responsibility for enforcing the Restriction. The Preservation Restriction is a long overdue obligation as the CPA requires it. It is independent of the Trustees’ present plans to expand the Jones.

Amherst’s Save Our Library (SOL) group is concerned that, whatever changes are made in the Jones Library, as much as possible of its historic 1928 structure will be preserved. The current project plans would close an original side entrance, now handicapped accessible, and would make the iconic, split-pediment main entrance accessible, by altering the setting with two new, sloped ramps, and by affixing a plexiglass-type canopy over the door. New construction behind and beside the original fieldstone facade would then increase the Jones Library’s current 48,000 sq. ft. to approximately 61,000 sq. ft.

The interior of the 1928 Jones is also of historical significance due, among other things, to its carved walnut staircases, woodwork, fireplaces, and fireplace surrounds. In this regard, we are concerned that the Historic Structures Report (Report) on the Jones Library has still not been delivered.

The HC itself called for this Report in November 2016, going so far as to devote $10,000 of its due diligence funds so that work could start on it promptly. Town Meeting appropriated the remaining $25,000 for the purpose. The Report was due by 31 August 2017. Unless it has been

delivered quite recently, SOL’s repeated nudges to the Town over the years to complete this Report have been in vain.

We understand that the Massachusetts Historical Commission (MHC) has asked to review the designs for the Library Trustees’ demolition and expansion project only when they are final. However, the MHC will need the Report in order to assess the designs’ “adverse effects” both on the 1928 Library and on the abutting Strong House, also a State Register property. The architects will need the Report in order to participate in the MHC’s review process, that is, to eliminate, minimize, and mitigate “adverse effects” on the historic Jones, as well as to preserve as much of it as possible during the upcoming Design and Development phase.

Whatever the HC can do to prompt the delivery of the Report at last will aid historic  preservation in our town.

Terry S. Johnson, Chair, Save Our Library Steering Committee
Sarah McKee, Past President, Jones Library Trustees
Carol Pope, Jones Library Kinsey Memorial Garden Creator
Christina Platt,  Retired Senior Portfolio Manager,  Morgan Stanley

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