Jones Library Trustees hoping for springtime approval by Amherst Town Council on financing building renovation, expansion

AMHERST – Jones Library Trustees are hoping Town Council will approve, come springtime, a financing plan to renovate and expand the Jones building, built in 1920s.

The idea has been in the works since 2017.

Jones Library Board of Trustees unanimously voted Oct. 15 to approve the Amherst library’s renovation and expansion plan.

This vote included asking that Amherst Town Council approve it “by the end of April” 2021.

“Jones Library is a central and important institution in the town of Amherst, for the past 100 years,” Trustees Chairman Austin Sarat said in an interview Wednesday.

“Amherst has changed, it is a more diverse, a more vibrant town. The library needs to change to adequately continue to serve all residents of this great town,” he said.

According to library trustees and Director Sharon Sharon Sharry the estimated $35 million total cost would broken down as $15 million from the town, $13.9 million state grant, $6 million via private donations, library reserve, community preservation act money and historic building tax credits.

According to Trustees, the state grant that was applied for is contingent on the proposed expansion.

Although 2020 was supposed to be the year the municipality would move forward on a quartet of major capital projects – a new elementary school, department of public works facility, fire station, and the Jones – COVID-19 pandemic threw a wrench in all of that.

This has resulted in municipal officials here being even more careful than usual on how precious resources are disbursed.

Some revenue have substantially declined — Amherst received $1.1 million less in water and sewer fees for the fiscal year that ended June 30.

This was  largely the result of University of Massachusetts-Amherst, and Amherst College and Hampshire College closing their campuses to students when pandemic was declared in March.

In addition, the state budget – which is supposed to be approved by July 1 – remains a work in progress.

As a result, local aid including Chap. 70 education funding, remains unknown for the town and the 350 other cities and towns.

The fate of the four Amherst capital projects remain in focus, but fiscal uncertainty – and pandemic-related issues since March, put a cloud over them.

Should Town Council say yes next April, the trustees envision forming a building committee, then soliciting bids for construction, with ground breaking in January 2023, with work being completed the following year.

The Jones remains closed to patrons, but lending out and returning books and other material began over the summer, occurring outside, with tents erected for that purpose.

In a statement to The Republican, Sharry said local health officials have advised that it is too risky, at this time due to COVID-19, for patrons to enter the Jones.

“I have been constantly monitoring conditions and working closely with the Town Manager and the Library Board of Trustees on the question of when and how to reopen the libraries. Ever since the Library shut its doors on March 16th, we have been watching the science.   We are in discussions with librarians across the state, as well as with officials in Amherst.   There is not a one-size-fits-all solution to this problem.   Across the state, some libraries are open by appointment, and some are like us – all services being provided online or outside.  There doesn’t seem to be a clear pattern,” she wrote.

Based on advice from the town’s health department, “the Jones Library is not a safe place for patrons to be because being in a library encourages gathering and lingering – two things which are not safe during COVID.   This is why we remain closed to the public,” she said. “The Jones building compounds the problem. The building is ‘chopped up’ into many, many small rooms too small for more than three people to be there at a time, and our HVAC system does not provide an adequate air exchange rate.”

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