Trustee Finds Jones Library Historic Structures Report ‘Incredibly Restrictive’

Postcard depicting Jones Library

Photo: Digital Commonwealth (CC BY-NC-ND)

Report on the Meeting of the Jones Library Board of Trustees, January 19, 2022

Present
Trustees Austin Sarat (President), Alex Lefebvre, Robert Pam, Lee Edwards, Tamson Ely and Farah Ameen; Library director Sharron Sharry; Friends of the Jones Library liaison Lewis Mainzer

Meeting Agenda and Packet

During discussion of last week’s joint meeting with the Amherst Historical Commission at which the commission unveiled the Jones Library Historic Structures Report, library trustee Tamson Ely expressed concern that the report’s guidelines were “incredibly restrictive.” Ely particularly objected to Guideline #2 which states with regard to the recently commenced library renovation/expansion project, “Respect for the original design intent, features and elements must be considered in the planning, design and implementation of improvements. Ideally the use of spaces should be compatible with the original plan and/ or function so as to minimize changes to the layout and volume of the spaces.”

[See related Jones Library’s Overdue Historic Structure Report Identifies Irreplaceable Features To Preserve and Opinion: Photo Essay – The Jones Library Historic Structures Report, An Obit Or A Celebration?]

Ely protested, “I don’t know how you create a twenty-first century library and have it have the same functions as it was imagined when it was built in 1928.” She confessed that since the report presentation, she has begun viewing the library’s historic features in a new light.

The meeting was the first for newly elected trustee Farah Ameen.  She was appointed to serve on the Jones Personnel, Planning & Policy, and Buildings & Facilities Committees by board president Austin Sarat.

Sarat ran through the trustee appointments to town committees.  Ameen and Alex Lefebvre will serve on the Joint Capital Planning Committee (JCPC).  Ely will be Town Personnel Board representative.  Treasurer Bob Pam will serve on the Audit Committee and Sarat and Pam on the Budget Coordinating Group.  Library Director Sharon Sharry will sit on the board of directors of the Business Improvement District.

Development Committee chairperson Lee Edwards gave an upbeat update on 2021 contributions to the library.  Annual Fund donations are divided between the Jones Library (80%) and the private non-profit Friends of the Jones Library (20%).  For the first half of 2021 the library’s share of the annual fund came to $67,864.76 and the portion administered by the Friends to $15,716.49.  Donations received during the second half of 2021 were even greater, with a total of $103,079 raised since July.  However, Edwards noted that this total represents 534 gifts compared with 735 gifts received one year ago.

Edwards reported that the capital campaign for contributions to the building project has generated gifts totaling $500,709.59 and is augmented by an earmark from the Van Steenberg bequest of $276,000.  In addition, outstanding pledges of $697,863.57 have been made, bringing total expected contributions to $1,474,572.16.  This represents close to half of the original commitment to raise $3,3 million, which Edwards feels is encouraging for this silent phase of the project.

The trustees have also committed to generating another $3.3 million for the building project through grants, tax credits, Community Preservation Act contributions from the town, and possible federal funding.  The library has applied for grants from the Beveridge Family Foundation and Mass Cultural Council totaling something under $1 million.

Due to alarming COVID-19 infection rates, Sharry asked the board to issue an occupant capacity limit of 50% for the North Amherst and Munson Library branches.  The town Board of Health director endorses this decision and has estimated that the pandemic may reach a winter peak in Amherst on February 1. Fifty percent capacity limits the branches to about nine patrons at a time.  The trustees voted unanimously in favor of the limit.

The North Amherst Library renovation project, scheduled to begin in March, has received a variance allowing the front entrance not to be required to be fully accessible.

In her written Directors Report Sharry listed the library’s 20 Most Popular Books of 2021.  Top spot went to Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents by Isabel Wilkerson.

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5 thoughts on “Trustee Finds Jones Library Historic Structures Report ‘Incredibly Restrictive’

  1. The Library Trustees need to start doing the things that Architectural Consultant Eric Gradoia
    told them is appropriate to do BEFORE any plans are drawn. The original partners of Finegold/Alexander were committed to historic preservation but newer partners have not been as rigorous in adhering to the same standards. Preserving a door here and a window there is not historic preservation.
    He mentioned that at least two Massachusetts libraries designed by Henry Hobson Richardson (of Trinity Church, Boston renown) have been renovated according to National Park Service standards and work perfectly fine as modern libraries. These two are the Crane Library in Quincy and the Ames Library in Easton. There could be others that we find out about if we look for them!

    We need to find out how these two historic libraries function and bring the message back to the library trustees. We can’t let all this precious hand-crafted interior be buried in a dump.

    Gradoia’s parting words were: “Listen to the building; don’t impose your ideas on it.”

  2. So do I….

    Reading this on an early-21st-century laptop in a mid-20th-century office surrounded by books filled with ideas dating back many millennia, I’d happily trade the great view of the Berkshires for the “precious hand-crafted interior” of the Jones.

    While I’m resigned to the impending expansion of the Jones, this new space can be created without destroying the existing building and gardens: as mature adults, the Trustees should take this as a challenge.

  3. An even nearer instance of historic preservation for a modern library is the Forbes in Northampton. The historic preservation architect who consulted on the Jones Library expansion in 1993 recommended several years ago that a couple of us visit the Forbes. He found it an excellent example of what can be done to keep the beauty of the past, while introducing modern library functionality.

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