Library Trustees Slam Plan B as They Develop It



Director Sharon Sharry began recording the June 17 online meeting of the Jones Library Buildings & Facilities Committee as Chair Farah Ameen surveyed the list of participants.

“Hmmm! Gosh! No audience,” she observed.  At which she broke into a broad grin and gave two thumbs up, saying, “Alright!  Shall we begin?”

A turnout of no public audience at the Buildings & Facilities Committee Meeting pleased Library Trustee Farah Ameen.  Source:

The Board of Library Trustees and its fundraising arm, the Friends of the Jones Library, Inc., have gained a reputation for preferring to operate in the shadows and dismissing public opinion that runs counter to their fixation on pushing forward the 10-year-old $46.1 million Jones Library renovation-expansion plan.

On May 20, Board President Austin Sarat had directed the Buildings & Facilities Committee, consisting of Chair Ameen, Director Sharry, Trustee Tamson Ely and Facilities Supervisor George Hicks-Richards, to meet to develop an alternative repair plan in case a rebid of the full expansion project comes in over budget for a second time this fall.

“The Buildings & Facilities Committee will be working diligently on a contingency plan that we would want to finalize lest in September when we rebid we are in the same position that we are now [$6.5 million over budget].”

The Committee’s diligence and good faith effort to offer an urgent repair plan that is most economical for the town might be questioned after members leveled repeated criticisms of a high-level plan being recommended to Town Manager Paul Bockelman by Director Sharry.

The Plan B proposal lists a schedule of work, funding for which will be requested of the town’s Joint Capital Planning Committee over the next eight fiscal years.  In FY25 Sharry’s plan is to

  • Hire an architect for feasibility study for HVAC replacement
  • Replace fire alert system/sprinklers. Potentially replace IT network wiring at the same time.
  • Children’s Room asbestos abatement

The work would initially be paid for out of a $1.8 million commitment made by the library trustees to fund repairs should the full expansion prove unaffordable.

After the library allotment of $1.8 million is spent, funding will fall to the Town of Amherst, Sharry suggested.

The Joint Capital Planning Committee is comprised of town councilors, school committee members, and the Jones Library trustees. Each year they meet to fairly divide up available capital budget resources among the three areas of government according to the most urgent capital needs.

Trustee Ely asked if it made sense to spread the work out over multiple years if asbestos abatement is required each time the walls are opened up.

Sharry replied, “It would be lovely if we could do all the abatement at once, but the whole point of not doing it all at once is because town can’t afford to do it all at once, because it eventually would start kicking in ADA.”  Kuhn Riddle Architects (KRA) has advised that full American Disability Act code compliance is required for construction projects that exceed 30% of the building’s assessed value, or $6.9 million for the Jones Library.  KRA notes that historic properties like the Jones Library may apply for ADA code variances and that it is not required by law for staff areas to be fully accessible.

Sharry and Hicks-Richards plan to put together an RFP for a feasibility study, but do not recommend spending any money until it is certain that the expansion project will not move forward.

Ameen asked how long it would take to hire an architect after an RFP were circulated.

“Don’t know,” admitted Sharry.

The committee continued to hold up the KRA report as irrefutable evidence that repairs will cost upwards of $20 million.  The cost estimate has never been validated by an independent analysis representing the interest of the town which will be paying for most of it.

Hicks-Richards and Ameen disparaged the repair idea, saying that the cost estimate does not include design fees or library moving expenses.  “And all that would be on the town except for the $1.8 million,” said Ameen, neglecting to consider that the Library has access to a robust private Capital Campaign that reports having raised $9.6 million toward renovation-expansion.

Ameen further complained that the repair plan would not introduce gender-neutral restrooms, teen space or basement safety, and that repairs might require multiple closures of the library.  Committee members responded that the ability to keep the library open would depend on the nature and duration of the work.

“Could we put new carpeting in that dismal corner of the basement where the teens hang out?” asked Ameen.

“No, that space probably needs to be walled off, turned into an office or something,” replied Sharry.

The trustees have reported behavior issues from teens who congregate in the remote lower level where staff is not around to supervise.

Ameen continued her harangue against the repair plan that she is charged with developing.  “So we would not be doing anything for our teens, improving the lives of the children and the children’s room, besides the abatement.”

“And we’d have to continue with programming through all of this,” Ameen lamented. “If they are working on the roof and you’re in the library and there’s banging going on, you just need to have a headache all day long, and you finally get used to it, right?”

By the end of the meeting three members of the public had showed up and Ameen called for public comment. 

Arlie Gould commented that there are members of the community who are capable of grant writing, and she expects that people would step up if the repair option became the path forward.

“I wish you would feel comfortable and willing to be open to the other perspectives and not feel they’re so dismal,” said Gould. “I’m glad you’re working on Plan B, but maybe a little bit more enthusiasm for it, because it is a real possibility.”

Library Annual Attendance Falls
Jones library renovation-expansion proponents have been called out for less than honest claims ranging from the extent to which townspeople support the project to the sustainability of the design to the amount of funds the Capital Campaign will remit to the Town to the ultimate cost of the project to taxpayers to the actual cost of urgent repairs should the renovation-expansion not go forward.

Another example of library hyperbole is the declared number of yearly visitors that the Jones Library must support.

Building Project literature and Capital Campaign advocacy articles from as recently as February 2024 have justified the $46.1 million expansion by claiming that the library “is used by 230,000 people each year.”

However, Library Services statistics recently published by the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners (MBLC) report that in 2023, the Jones Library had 142,675 visitors.  This official count reveals that the Library Capital Campaign’s figure is inflated by more than 60%.  It further reflects a downward trend in Jones Library annual attendance since 2006 when attendance was reported to be 400,000.

The number of annual library visitors has been overstated by nearly 90,000. Source: Jones Library News,
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5 thoughts on “Library Trustees Slam Plan B as They Develop It

  1. Jeff, thank you for informing the public that the Jones has only 142,675 visitors a year down from the 400,000 reported in 2006.

    There is another statistic that bears consideration. In 2010, the Jones had 213,388 print holdings. In 2023, only 153,011. A total of 60,387 less books translate into significantly less shelf space, therefore more floor space. This means that the current library of 48,000 sq. ft. has more flexibility in moving programs to different locations.

    The Jones Library Building and Facilities Committee should challenge themselves to think out the box.

    And do we really need a demolition/expansion to a 63,000 sq. foot building?

  2. Thank you, Terry and Jeff, for reminding us of data that support a renovation of the historic Jones Library, instead of the overblown and overbudget demolition/expansion.

    May I add another relevant statistic? The Trustees have said for so long that the Library has 48,000 SF, one might almost be forgiven for forgetting it.

    As long ago as April 2016, the architects determined that, “if all spaces were to be used most efficiently,” the Library actually has 51,000 SF.

    Why not plan to “use all spaces” MORE efficiently, at least?

  3. If Jones is supposed to be a “community center” , where is everyone going to PARK? Parking was already an issue before the Council decided to eliminate parking in front of town hall. How far do people have to walk in extreme heat or snow and ice to access this new ” center”? People with handicap plates can park right outside, but how about others with mobility or health issues , but no handicap plates?

  4. Thanks, Sarah and Terry, for describing The Jones Library Trustees’ proposal for what it is: a demolition/expansion project.

    On the other hand, if after decades of neglect, the library Director and JLB&FC are now seriously considering an actual renovation/repair project, then perhaps there’s hope….

    But to have a coherent and honest discussion of what’s at stake as we think or write about various proposals for the future of the Jones, thoughtful framing* is important.


    *Here’s a gentle, even entertainin,g introduction to this concept from linguistics and philosophy by UC Berkekey’s George Lakoff:

  5. Hmmm! Gosh! No audience,” she observed. At which she broke into a broad grin and gave two thumbs up…’ was attributed to a Jones trustee.

    Uh, people in this town have lives and work and micro managing poor decisions by trustees and town council members is exhausting.

    i actually went to my first council meeting for just this topic recently, and I sat for three hours in the room waiting for the library to be addressed, and eventually gave up and went home. The items on the agenda changed whereby the library became the last topic. (Notable, this happens more often when hot topics are on town agendas, hoping residents fall asleep, or don’t show up).

    Knowing 300 emails were received, but are not published as they come in, and with zoom not allowing comments, is appears local government is intentionally tying the peoples hands behind their backs, preventing conversations of like minded citizens to occur organically. How is this not destroying democracy?

    I was surprised that comments (even some of them) were not read out load or printed prior to the meeting for public record, so that I could get a feel of what the people are feeling.. I can remember a time past where comments were read at hearings by officials. Odd.

    Anyway, here is my two a minority fiscal conservative.

    Self serving politicians
    do not have a clue,
    as to what is needed
    and what to poo poo.

    A 56 million dollar library,
    yet, 4 within 10 miles?
    The building expanson
    should be shoved in the files.

    In the files of obsolescence
    so stuck in the past.
    Sure, save the stairs
    but sell the Jones, fast.

    Use proceeds for Munson
    and the land all around.
    Add a modern addition,
    the possibilities abound.

    The south common
    offers parking galore,
    and beautiful views
    of the great outdoors.

    the East Street School,
    is central to all,
    A building not used,
    The ceilings are tall.

    Historical in nature,
    Expand off of it,
    A wing of modernity,
    Should do the trick

    Conservative smart spending,
    is what we need,
    Not exploding budgets
    for a vanity plea.


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