The Jones Library has submitted an application for a grant from the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners (the MBLC) that will provide a substantial portion of the costs of a badly needed renovation and expansion of the Library.
The proposal submitted is the result of a two-year planning process, involving, first, the preparation of a detailed “Program” (See the Program) describing in exhaustive detail the functions needed within the Library. One of the finest architectural firms in the Commonwealth, Finegold Alexander Architects, with extensive experience in both library construction/renovation, and historic preservation then examined the present library building in detail, and, after extensive discussions with the citizen-composed Design Subcommittee, and comments from the public with whom all proposals were shared, prepared a generalized scheme for a library that will serve the needs of Amherst’s citizens for decades to come (See the Preliminary Schematics).
The MBLC application required only a general schematic description; it is not a detailed set of construction plans, and many design and layout details, including the look and feel of both the interior and exterior of the addition have yet to be decided by an open, community-based process.
Here’s what the proposal does:
- Makes the entire Library not only accessible but welcoming to the mobility impaired, including stacks, elevator, hallways, reading and meeting rooms;
- Provides space for more than double the number of computer workstations for adults, children and teens;
- With an open floor plan around a prominent central stairway, the new addition makes the Library much more easily navigable by newcomers in contrast to the present complicated and confusing layout of fixed rooms, multiple staircases, and small corridors;
- The open floor plan for the addition also provides a Library that is easily adaptable to the changing needs of the Town and the Library;
- Provides rest rooms on every floor;
- Ground floor:
- Special Collections/Archives – provides 50% more space so that the entire collection can be stored under climate controlled conditions (not now possible), workspace is provided for staff, and an Exhibit Area is accessible at all times when the Library is open (not now possible).
- ESL program – more than doubles the space available, including two meeting rooms for groups (including The Literacy Project), and a waiting area where ESL students can converse among themselves;
- Burnet Gallery – is easily located and available whenever the Library is open.
- First Floor:
- Welcomes the first-time or casual visitor with a readily comprehensible layout, immediate access to staff assistance and circulation desk;
- Doubles the space dedicated to children’s materials and activities that will accommodate unmet programmatic needs of Amherst’s families with children; Provides dedicated space for teen library programs – especially valuable when schools are not open; These two constituencies, in particular, represent our future, and these new spaces, prominently featured, are designed to attract them to the Library to appreciate its treasures.
- Restores the historic space that, with its barrel-vaulted ceiling, was the theater in the original 1928 Library building;
- Provides space for more efficient deployment of staff in materials handling in support of the circulation desk, inter-library loans, and self-serve functions
- Maintains the original entry stairway of the 1928 building;
- Restores the two small reading rooms to the west of the entry hall to their original proportions, permitting a final design that can preserve the look and feel of the wood finishes and fireplaces;
- Moves the Woodbury Room up from the basement to the first floor, enlarging it to seat 200, with its own rest rooms and side entrance from the street level, and making it accessible after hours when the Library is not open. Much of the equipment recently installed will be re-used in the new meeting room which will continue to be named the Woodbury Room;
- Second Floor:
- Restores all three of the original small reading rooms of the 1928 building to their original proportions, permitting a final design that can preserve the look and feel of the wood finishes and fireplaces, re-opening two of them to the public, and providing quiet, adult reading rooms not now available;
- Provides four collaborative work rooms for homework and other projects for teens or adult groups;
- Surrounds all stack areas with adjacent seating areas to restore the browsing library function of the Jones, allowing patrons to review what is available before selecting items for checkout;
- Third Floor:
- Preserves the Goodwin Room (Board Room) in its present configuration;
- Replaces the 1993 addition, which is not considered of special historic value, at a lower cost than re-working its small, fixed rooms, complicated layout, and unworkable atrium;
- Increases the total size of the building by slightly more than 1/3 (from 47,000 sq. ft. to 65,000 sq. ft.) in order to accommodate the proposed program. No renovation within the current footprint can accomplish that without increasing the height of such an addition out of proportion to the original 1928 building;
- Preserves the appearance of the entire exterior of the original building, presenting the same welcome from Amity Street as since 1928. From the corner of Amity and Prospect, the new addition will be no more visible than the 1993 addition.
While many design and layout details have yet to be determined, it is clear that the proposed Library will be able to meet the needs of Amherst’s changing demographics for the foreseeable future, allowing it to resume its historic role as one of the most important institutions preserving Amherst’s unique culture.