Highlights of the Meeting of the Jones Library Building Committee, February 15, 2022
Austin Sarat (Library Trustee Chair), Alex Lefebvre (Library Trustee), Sharon Sharry (Library Director), Paul Bockelman (Town Manager), Sean Mangano (Town Finance Director), Anika Lopes (Town Council), George Hicks-Richards (Library Facilities Supervisor), Christine Gray-Mullen (resident member), Ken Romeo (Colliers Project Manager).
Library Trustee and Jones Library Building Committee (JLBC) Chair Austin Sarat spoke concerning a letter sent by two former Jones Library Board of Trustees presidents to state officials alleging the downplaying of the library’s historical significance and a disregard of Massachusetts historical preservation laws on the part of the Jones Library Building Project and the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners (MBLC).
Among the complaints detailed by Sarah McKee and Merrylees Turner in the nine-page letter were a failure of the library to disclose in its $13.8 million MBLC grant application that the Jones Library is listed on the State and National Registers of Historic Places, and the absence of any announced plan to submit schematics and photographs to the Massachusetts Historical Commission (MHC) for a review of adverse effects on a State Register property as previously requested by the MHC.
They cite Massachusetts regulation 950 CMR 71: Protection of properties included in the State Register of Historic Places which requires state bodies subsidizing building projects that may harm historical properties to notify the MHC prior to committing funds, and calls for public participation in determining how proposed impacts to historical properties should be resolved.
Sarat defended the Jones Library’s process, pointing to an email from Andrea Bunker of the MBLC informing Library Director Sharon Sharry that, “You filed the project notification form as required, and the architects know that they will have to provide the information requested for review when you get to a place in the design that warrants it.”
Recent schematics show, and the project notification form confirms that demolition of parts of the historic 1928 Jones Library building is planned. The project notification form also contains a curious answer to the question, “Are any historic or archaeological properties known to exist within the project’s area of potential impact?”
The library answered, “The envelope of the original 1928 structure is listed with the State Register of Historic Resources.” That they referenced the envelope and not the entire 1928 building which is the actual entity listed in the State Register may indicate that the building project planners do not consider the interior of the building worthy of preservation. The Jones Library Historic Structure Report commissioned by the Town describes dozens of remarkable interior historic features in its seventy pages.
The JLBC meeting also set up two subcommittees to focus on different aspects of the project. Sharry, Christine Gray-Mullen and George Hicks-Richards will sit on the Design Subcommittee and Anika Lopes, Alex Lefebvre, and a new resident member expected to be named at the February 28 Town Council meeting will make up the Outreach Subcommittee. Sarat will serve as a voting ex-officio member of both subcommittees.
The group developed official charges for both committees. The Design Subcommittee charge includes making design recommendations to the JLBC and considering the recommendations and concerns of the Outreach Subcommittee, Massachusetts and Amherst Historic Commissions, Disability Access Advisory Committee, Jones Library Sustainability Committee, Burnett Art Gallery Committee, the Jones Library Gardens Advisory Committee, library staff and the MBLC to revise previous schematics.
The Outreach Subcommittee charge includes developing an outreach plan, seeking community engagement, gathering community input through listening sessions, and making design recommendations to the Design Subcommittee.
Asked for thoughts about the goals of the outreach group, Town Manager Paul Bockelman explained, “I think one of the important features of this charge for the Outreach Committee is that it’s specifically designed to inform the design of the building. It’s not just to do outreach, but actually to take that outreach and communicate it back into the design. I really like that as being part of the charge.”
Building Committee Chairperson Sarat offered a different perspective. “Myself, I think that the first task of the Outreach Committee is to explain who the Jones Library Building Committee is, what its work is and what its process will be.”
The next meeting of the JLBC is scheduled for Tuesday, March 1 at 4:30pm.