Letter: Library Trustees’ Failure To Comply With State Preservation Law Threatens Construction Grant


The office of Charles Green, the first director of the Jones Library. The photo likely dates to around the opening of the Amity Street building in 1928. It is slated to be destroyed in the planned Jones demolition and renovation. Photo: Jones Library Special Collections

The following letter from Molly Turner and Sarah McKee, past presidents of the Jones Library Board of Trustees, was sent to Secretary of the Commonwealth William Francis Galvin and to Michael J. Heffernan, Secretary of the Massachusetts Executive Office for Administration and Finance (known as “A&F”) on February 2, 2022. The letter has been abridged to remove extensive footnotes.  The original version can be viewed or downloaded here.

This letter concerns the $13,871,314 state grant that the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners (MBLC) has made to the Town of Amherst and Jones Library Trustees. As INDY readers know, this grant is for the project to demolish 40% of the existing Jones Library, and to build a larger addition. 

The Town and Jones Trustees have so far failed nonetheless to comply with Massachusetts law concerning historic preservation for the Jones Library. If they continue to do so, they will breach their grant contract. The Town will then be obligated to return the $2,774,263 of this grant that it has already received, plus interest.

This letter urges Secretary Galvin and Secretary Heffernan to do what they can to get a historic preservation review of the project by the Mass Historical Commission in an effort to save as many historic features of the 1928 Jones Library as possible. It would also allow the town to keep the $2,774,263 in grant money that it has already received, and be eligible to receive the remainder of the grant. 

Dear Secretary Galvin and Secretary Heffernan,

This letter is a last-ditch effort: 

  1. To obtain the legally-required historic preservation review by the Massachusetts Historical Commission (MHC) of designs for a more than $35,623,103 demolition/expansion project (“Project”) on Amherst’s Jones Library, which is listed on the State Register of Historic Places as AMH.259, and
  1. To get the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners (MBLC) to enforce (a) the MBLC’s own regulations concerning compliance with the Massachusetts Historic Preservation Law, as well as (b) the terms of its $13,871,314 grant contract for this Project with the Town of Amherst (“Town”) and the Trustees of the Jones Library (“Jones Trustees”). The MBLC disbursed $2,774,263 of this grant to the Town on or about early December 2021.

I. Request for Your Assistance in Urging the MBLC and MHC to Enforce Massachusetts Historic Preservation Law related to Amherst’s Historic Jones Library 

We are past Presidents of the Jones Library Board of Trustees. The Trustees of the Jones Library, Inc., a 501 (c)(3), own the Jones Library‘s building and land. The Jones Library is nonetheless Amherst’s principal public library.

In light of this matter’s public importance, we would greatly appreciate a prompt acknowledgement of this letter. We appreciate that any consultation with the MBLC and MHC would probably require additional time.

The original Jones Library was built in 1928. It was a revolution in American library architecture. Instead of an Andrew Carnegie “temple of learning” design, it was meant to look and feel like a capacious and elegant home. Despite additions in the 1960s and 1990s, much of the original building still looks and feels that way. Like many Jones Library patrons, we care deeply that this demolition/expansion project preserve its unique and irreplaceable historic features to the greatest possible extent.

We also care that our Commonwealth’s public funds be expended only in accordance with applicable law. It is however fair to say that neither is happening with this project at present. On the contrary, the town and Jones Trustees appear to have no plans as of yet to fulfill their contractual obligations to comply with that law, and to submit their current schematic designs to the MHC for its historic preservation review under 950 CMR 71.00, “Protection of Properties Included in the State Register of Historic Places.” 

We are therefore asking you, Secretary Galvin, and you, Secretary Heffernan, to use your good offices with the MHC and the MBLC, respectively, to protect this irreplaceable architectural treasure of our Commonwealth. These state agencies must ensure that this project complies with the applicable statutes, and with the applicable MHC and MBLC historic preservation and financial regulations.

II. This Project Will Predictably Have “Adverse Effects” On Two State Register Properties

The Jones Library is not only a State Register property. Since 1991 it has been on the National Register of Historic Places as a contributing structure within the Amherst Central Business District.

This project will have multiple “adverse effects” on the exterior and interior of the Jones Library’s 1928 Colonial Revival structure. “Adverse effects” include the destruction or alteration of all or part of a State Register property, interior as well as exterior, and alteration of its setting.  “Adverse effects” on a State Register property are legally significant. Where state money is to be spent on a project, they trigger an obligation on the part of a project proponent, in consultation with the MHC, to “eliminate, minimize, and mitigate” them. At times, we understand, this can require changes in a project’s design.

The project’s most recent schematic designs, from October 2020, show that almost all interior walls of the 1928 Jones Library will be removed and/or moved, demolishing original stairs, fireplaces, fireplace surrounds, Philippine mahogany paneling, hand-carved woodwork, and room configurations. Founding Jones Library Director Charles Greene’s stately office, where Robert Frost used to present Greene with his signed first editions, will be almost completely demolished. These are all “adverse effects.” 

This Project will also alter the Jones Library’s setting by adding two curved, graded walkways from the Amity Street sidewalk to the Jones Library’s main entrance. It will alter the 1928 Library’s Amity Street façade by installing a glass or Plexi-glas type canopy, bolted into the native stonework. This will protrude from the second floor, over the Jones Library’s iconic Connecticut Valley, split curved-pedimented main entrance. 

This project will furthermore affect the setting and possibly the structural integrity of the fragile Strong House, built circa 1754. The Amherst Historical Society owns the Strong House. This, also, is a State Register property (AMH.1000). It occupies the abutting Amity Street parcel to the Jones Library’s west. 

The town and Jones Trustees have never afforded the MHC the opportunity to identify these or any of this Project’s other “adverse effects.” Nor, accordingly, has the MHC conducted its regulatory consultation process with the town, Jones Trustees, and members of the Amherst area public about ways to “eliminate, minimize, and mitigate” them. 

III.  The Amherst Town Manager, Jones Library Director, and MBLC Have Been on Notice Since 2016 that the Jones Library is a State Register Property and is on the National Register

The Amherst Town Manager, the Jones Library Director, and the MBLC have been on notice since 2016 that the Jones Library is a State Register property. They have likewise been on notice of the information that the MHC therefore requires of this project. In a letter dated 23 December 2016 (“2016 MHC Letter”), with courtesy copies to the MBLC, the Jones Library Director, and others, the MHC informed the Amherst Town Manager: 

[T]he Jones Library is located within the Amherst Central Business District and listed in the National and State Registers of Historic Places.

This MHC letter notes that, on the MBLC’s and MHC’s required “Project Notification Form,” the Trustees reported the project as “involving limited demolition of the original 1928 library structure, the demolition of the 1993 addition, and construction of a new addition….” This 2016 MHC Letter further states:

The MHC requires complete photographic coverage of proposed work locations on the exterior and the interior…keyed to sketch maps or floor plans..a detailed project description along with an indication of what exterior and interior sections of the building will be removed and whether they will be stored for future reuse…existing and proposed perspective illustrations of the project, keyed to a sketch map.

For more than five years, the Town, the Jones Library Director, and the Jones Trustees have failed to provide any of this information to the MHC. Instead, in their grant application to the MBLC in January 2017, they said: “We now propose to renovate the 1928 structure….” This implied that the project would leave the 1928 structure intact. Nonetheless, their schematic designs included in that grant application showed that the project would still produce “adverse effects” on the 1928 Jones Library. 

Further, the Jones Trustees’ grant application wrongly represents that the 1928 Jones Library is on neither the National nor the State Register of Historic Places. Item 8 on the MBLC’s grant application form requires this information. Nonetheless, the Jones Trustees’ and town’s grant application left these mandatory fields blank:
8. The existing building to be renovated is:

[  ] On the National Register of Historic Places
[  ] On the Massachusetts Historical Commission’s Inventory of Historic and Archeological Assets [Includes State Register of Historic Places]

[x] In an historic district.

True, the Jones Library is in an historic district. But it is also on both the National and State Registers of Historic Places. Whether this misrepresentation was in good faith, in error, or something else is irrelevant. Likewise irrelevant is whether this misled the MBLC into thinking that the MHC’s involvement was no longer required. 

The Jones Trustees and the Town had, and still have, a regulatory and contractual obligation to provide the MHC with the information required for the MHC’s historic preservation review.

IV.  The Jones Trustees and Town Have a Contractual Obligation to Provide the MHC with the Historic Preservation Information That It Requires 

 The MBLC regulations provide:  

To be eligible to sign a grant contract and agreement with the [MBLC], the Applicant will…agree to the following assurances set forth in the construction grant agreement … 

that the Applicant will comply with M.G.L. c. 9, §§ 26 and [sic] 27C and 950 CMR 71.00: Protection of Properties Included in the State Register of Historical [sic] Places and any additional [MHC] legal and regulatory requirements, including that which affords the [MHC] the opportunity to review and comment as early as possible in the planning stages of the project. 

“As early as possible in the planning stages of the project” was in 2016, more than five years ago. Yet the current Building Project timeline on the Jones Library website shows no schedule for submission to the MHC of the required information. Instead, it shows “Schematic Design and Development (22 weeks)” starting November 2021; “Construction Documents (30 weeks)” starting March 2022“; etc. 

This schedule has obviously slipped by several months, as construction project schedules frequently do. Yet it is clear that this schedule allots no time whatsoever for the MHC’s mandatory historic preservation review. If that takes fewer than 12 weeks, starting from when the Town and Jones Trustees begin to assemble the information that the 2016 MHC Letter requires, it will be remarkable.

V.  The MHC Requires Adequate Documentation of “Adverse Effects,” Public Participation

The MHC has “30 days from receipt of an adequately documented Project Notification Form” in which to determine the Project’s “adverse effects” on a State Register property. We are unaware of any start at assembling the detailed data essential for such “adequate document[ation].” 

The MHC regulations then require a consultation process to “to consider project alternatives that could eliminate, minimize, or mitigate adverse effects” on the two State Register properties at issue here. In addition, the MHC’s regulations encourage “the views of the public” as part of its consultation process. 

Notice to the public under 950 CMR 71.11 should adequately inform the public of preservation issues in order to elicit informed public views on issues that can be considered and resolved, when possible, in the decision making process.

The COVID pandemic during the past two years would have required creative ways to conduct this process. Before that, however, this project had already been under way for more than three years. We would know if there had been any attempt at any time to involve the Amherst area public in such a process. There has been none. This, also, shows that there has been no MHC process. 

If and when there is one, it will almost certainly result in modifications of the project’s schematic designs. This is because the Town and Jones Trustees “must adopt all prudent and feasible means to eliminate, minimize, or mitigate adverse effects.” Only then will it be appropriate to schedule “Schematic Design and Development” and the ensuing stages of the project. 

At the meeting of the Jones Trustees’ Building Committee on 27 January 2022, the Library Director noted that conferring with the MBLC should be done ASAP: “They have some concerns.” One can hope that these “concerns” refer to the need for the town and Jones Trustees to provide the MHC with the information specified in the 2016 MHC Letter, and to participate in good faith in the MHC’s process to “eliminate, minimize, and mitigate” this Project’s many “adverse effects.”

VI. Colliers International, the Owner’s Project Manager, Has Failed Thus Far to Ensure the Project’s Compliance with Historic Preservation Law

One big disappointment in following this project since March 2016 has been the failure of Colliers International, the OPM, to see that the town and Jones Trustees comply with applicable historic preservation law. As you know, the OPM is “a professional who meets state qualifications to represent the Applicant from predesign through post-construction phases by providing independent and competent advice on all aspects of a building project. Responsibilities include … monitoring all phases of design and construction.”

“[A]ll aspects of [this] building project” necessarily include its compliance with the MBLC and MHC historic preservation requirements. We understand that any OPM must be licensed by the Commonwealth. Presumably the OPM on a project concerning a State Register property, and more than $13 million in Commonwealth funding, should therefore make sure that the project proponents are aware of the applicable Massachusetts law and abide by it. 

It would have taken Colliers International just a quick check of the Secretary of the Commonwealth’s MACRIS data base to see that the Jones Library is a State Register property. In addition, the MHC copied Colliers International specifically on its 2016 MHC Letter. So Colliers International was on notice, for that reason, of the Jones Library’s State Register status, as well as being on notice of the detailed information that the MHC requires from the town and Jones Trustees.

Furthermore, a Colliers International representative attended meetings in the Jones Library that one or the other of us attended. He was quite competent to read the schematic designs submitted to the MBLC with the town’s and Jones Trustees’ MBLC grant application, and to compare them with the 1928 Jones Library building as it is. He could therefore have seen that these schematic designs involved “adverse effects” on this State Register property, and that these designs accordingly required MHC historic preservation review. The OPM’s failure so far to ensure the Project’s compliance would seem to be a dereliction of the OPM’s responsibility.

VII. Continued Failure to Provide the MHC with Required Data and to Participate in its Review Process Will Place the Jones Trustees and Town in Breach of Their MBLC Grant Contract

The MBLC’s own regulations provide:

Failure by the Applicant to comply with any of the assurances in the grant contract and agreement constitutes a breach of the agreement. No further disbursements will be made by the [MBLC], and all funds previously advanced to the Applicant, plus interest, must be returned.

As noted above, one of the assurances in the MBLC construction grant contract requires the Jones Trustees and Town to provide the information needed for the MHC’s historic preservation review. If they fail to do so, this “constitutes breach of the agreement,” and the Town will have to return the $2,774,263 that the MBLC has already disbursed, plus interest. Even if the Town and Trustees have already spent some of this money, they still must reimburse it all.

We understand that any such returned MBLC grant disbursements are paid into the General Fund, rather than to the MBLC. This appears to be a disincentive for the MBLC’s enforcement of its own contracts. For instance, the MBLC failed to require return of the Jones Trustees’ and town’s planning and design grant, awarded in 2014, even though the Town and Jones Trustees failed to comply with the analogous planning and design grant regulatory and contractual requirement as to the Protection of Properties Included in the State Register of Historical [sic] Places.

The MBLC must not similarly countenance any breach, by the Town of Amherst and Jones Trustees, of their $13,871,314 construction grant contract. 

We therefore recommend that those who can influence the MBLC and the MHC urge:

  1. That the MBLC not make the second or any subsequent grant disbursement until the town and Jones Trustees provide the MHC with the data specified in the 2016 MHC letter; participate fully in the MHC’s historical preservation review process; and, if necessary, modify their schematic designs for this Project accordingly; and
  1. That the MHC not authorize any Historic Rehabilitation Tax Credits for this Project until the town and Jones Trustees have complied fully as indicated in (1), above. 


Merrylees Turner

Sarah McKee

Merrylees Turner and Sarah McKee are Past Presidents, Jones Library Board of Trustees

Copy of original letter with footnotes.

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3 thoughts on “Letter: Library Trustees’ Failure To Comply With State Preservation Law Threatens Construction Grant

  1. Why would the author of the application for a state library construction grant fail to check off that the Jones is on the National and State Registers of Historic Places? Let’s hope it is not to bypass the agencies charged with historic preservation and clear the way to demolish a significant portion of the original library, including features that many patrons, residents and taxpayers continue to appreciate.

    The inaccuracy is all the more alarming when considered against the library’s justification for $1 million in Community Preservation Act (CPA) funding for historic preservation purposes. In its request for CPA funds the library wrote:

    “As part of the Amherst Central Business National Historic Register District, the original building has been on the National Register of Historic Places since 1991.”

    It is understandable that promoters of the library renovation/expansion would be anxious to secure millions of dollars in government aid and realize their vision of a grand, twenty-first century library in downtown Amherst, but there are lines that should not be crossed.

  2. Jeff implicitly raises a very serious issue here: Was this “fail[ure] to check off that the Jones is on the National and State Registers of Historic Places” an oversight or a deliberate act? And, if the latter, would that cross the line from a civil to a criminal matter?

    There is also the matter of linguistic framing when describing the project: While the “promoters” frame this as a “library renovation/expansion” project, in reality it is a DEMOLITION/expansion project.

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