Showing posts with label Jones Library. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Jones Library. Show all posts

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Tell Us How You Really Feel

Jones Library Director Sharon Sharry

The privately owned Town Meeting listserve (with over 200 members) had another one of those amusing incidents of a member sending out a reply all when she meant to send to only one like minded compatriot.

And this is not the first time Ms. Greenbaum has done that.

It certainly highlights just how acrimonious the Jones Library expansion debate has become.

 Click to enlarge/read

Although since the Jones Library, like the listserve,  is also privately owned and controlled by the Jones Library Board of Trustees, Library Director Sharon Sharry does not really have to worry about her job status since they seem to be on the same page when it comes to the expansion.

This Spring the annual Town Meeting will vote to allow the Library to apply for state funding ($15 million) from the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners, which only requires a majority vote.

The harder sell, required a two-thirds vote, will happen at the Fall Town Meeting where the Library Board of Trustees will be asking for the town match, a Debt Exclusion Override of $12 million.

Friday, January 6, 2017

No Signatures For You?

Jones Library:  An iconic presence in the heart of downtown

The Jones Library Trustees met yesterday and spent about 25 minutes discussing whether the library could or should be used as a favorite fishing spot to bag signatures for town wide office -- especially that of Jones Library Trustee.

Although clearly a public space and therefor fair game, Trustee President Austin Sarat made a distinction between "norms vs. rights".

Most agreed that a sitting Trustee asking an employee they technically have power over for a signature on their nomination papers is a tad intrusive because the employee might feel "pressured" to sign.

Director Sharon Sharry pointed out the "gauntlet" that sets up in front of the Middle School Auditorium on the first few nights of Town Meeting with candidates in search of signatures, and she would prefer that not happen at the Jones Library two front entries.

Rookie Trustee Alex Lefebvre, appointed by a joint meeting of the Select Board and Trustees last month, said she doesn't like being approached by strangers when shopping at Stop & Shop to sign petitions or nomination papers.

The Trustees took no formal action but will send it to a sub committee for further study.  In the audience was Terry Johnson a candidate for Library Trustee on the upcoming March 28 election who also applied for the temporary seat won by Alex Lefebvre who voiced strong support for the library expansion during the interview before Select Board and Library Trustees.

Ms. Johnson was not overly supportive of the expansion during the interview.

As such Ms. Lefebvre was appointed by the Trustees to their Building and Facilities Sub Committee and the Joint Capital Planning Committee.

Director Sharon Sharry also updated Trustees on the progress of the e-x-p-a-n-s-i-o-n telling them the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners had come back with required changes in the preliminary plans and all of them had been implemented.

The final Construction Grant Application is due January 26th and they hear back whether it will be funded on July 13th.

At the Spring Town Meeting starting in late April the Library will request permission to apply for and receive grant funds (if approved by the state) and at the Fall Town Meeting will request the amount of town money needed to go along with the state money and private fundraising efforts.

Current estimates for the Jones Library expansion/renovation is in the $32 million range with the state paying $15 million, private donations of $5 million, and a taxpayer Debt Exclusion Override of $12 million.

The Jones Library endowment now stands at $7.63 million and President Sarat brought up the idea of perhaps using more than the 4% draw to support the operation budget this coming fiscal year.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Dysfunction Anyone?

 The Jones Library:  Amherst's living room

Perhaps in addition to the nifty new electronic voting clickers the Moderator should also consider another modern day device to assist him with keeping Town Meeting running smoothly: a stun gun.

In all my 25 years of as a Town Meeting participant/observer I have never seen such a display of unruliness bordering on bedlam. Brought to you by, who else, Carol Gray.

Carol Gray with a loaded weapon in her left hand 

Although the Moderator certainly could have handled things better, as "Points of Order" richocheted around the room like shrapnel from a Hellfire missile.

One thing an attorney is trained for is the give-and-take of cross examination. One little slip "opens the door" for a line of questioning that otherwise would be out of bounds.

By allowing the Jones Library delegation to talk about the building project in their presentation he invited Town Meeting members to follow suit, even if it was against his preamble speech to the membership that it would be ruled "outside the scope of the article."

 Historical Society property would have allowed expansion less destructive to green space

Not that I think the zoning change -- which requires a challenging two thirds vote -- was going to pass no matter how smoothly the presentation and follow up discussion went.

The privately owned Town Meeting list serve was a beehive of conspiracy theories all these past few weeks, so the failure was hardly surprising.

By killing the chance for the Jones Library to purchase abutting property from a kindred spirit, Town Meeting has set up the future renovation/expansion project for failure.

Even worse, it demonstrated our legislative body takes Ms. Gray seriously.  That alone is reason enough to terminate Town Meeting. 

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Backdoor Sabotage

Jones Library needs property from Historical Society for preferred expansion

I always love it when somebody accidentally hits reply all and sends a telling message they think is only going to a very few like minded obstructionists.

Take former Jones Library black sheep Trustee Carol Gray for instance, who just sent a message to all 200+ members of the privately owned Town Meeting listserve.

Anybody who pays attention to Town Meeting issues -- which unfortunately does not include the vast majority of Amherst voters -- knows full well the plan is afoot to stop the Jones Library expansion/renovation right at the starting gate by denying them the ability to purchase land next door from a willing, highly respected, seller.

And as Carol so gleefully points out, it only takes a one-third super minority to kill development, no matter how reasonable it is.  Reason #1 for terminating Town Meeting.

Click to enlarge/read (but by all means do not forward)

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Select Board: Just Say No

Jones Library right, Strong House history museum left Kinsey Garden circled in red

Not surprisingly the Amherst Select Board, our current executive branch of government, voted unanimously to recommend dismissal of Town Meeting warrant article #41 that would prevent the Jones Library from touching a single plant in the Kinsey Memorial Garden located immediately behind the Library and prime turf for a potential $30+ million expansion/renovation.

Click to enlarge/read

The "citizens petition" article, unanimously opposed by the Jones Board of Trustees, is only advisory so even if Town Meeting approves it by majority vote there's no legal requirement for the Library to follow the advice.

 Kinsey Memorial Garden

By far the more important land use decision for the Library would already have been made prior to Article #41.

Land immediately adjacent to the Kinsey Memorial Garden, also green space currently occupied by the Strong House History Museum 18th Century Garden, is required for the Jones Library to do the preferred expansion design.

Article #31, which requires a two-thirds vote, would change the zoning on that property to General Business from the current General Residential.   That would allow the cash strapped Amherst Historical Society to sell the property to the Jones Library for their expansion/renovation. 

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Library Expansion Preliminary Cost

Jones Library 48,000 square feet about half of it original and historic

The Jones Library Design Subcommittee heard a presentation this morning from their architects Finegold Alexander about the preliminary -- and everybody was careful to accent "preliminary" -- plans for the expansion/renovation of the current 48,000 square foot facility that dominates the western part of downtown.

Jones Library Design Subcommittee (10 people were in the audience concerned about gardens in back where expansion will go)

The "dream vision" would have been 110,000 square feet (more than doubling in size) and cost $53.8 million, the cheapest alternative of renovation only for existing facility came to $20 million, and the "sweet spot" in between -- and highly favored design concept -- of a 65,000 square foot building came to $31.9 million.

 Wider purple to rear indicates expansion footprint if Strong House property involved

That concept (Option 2) does require the purchase of property from the Strong House History Museum next door, and that price does not reflect whatever that cost will be if Town Meeting approves a needed zoning change to allow the land deal.

The Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners, who suggested a 75,000 square foot target, will cover 41% of the eligible costs which the architects  calculated at $12 million, thus the town share comes to $19.7 million.

Earlier this week in a presentation to the Select Board, a new DPW facility concept  was unveiled at a "preliminary" cost of $37 million. 

And a couple months ago the Wildwood School Building Committee chose a "preliminary" design for a new elementary school that combines two schools in one for a total cost of $65 million, with town share coming to $30 million or so.

Nothing concrete concerning the new South Fire Station however, although it gets lots of lip service.

AFD Central Station, built 1929, is embarrassingly cramped

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Zoning Ping Pong

Strong House (left) Jones Library (center)
Proposed property sale (red box)

Last week Jones Library Director Sharon Sharry and Selectman Jim Wald went before the Planning Board just to give them a heads up about a rezoning of the Strong House History Museum from  (R-G) Residential to (B-G) Business.

 Jim Wald and Sharon Sharry appear before Amherst Planning Board last week

This would allow the less than affluent History Museum to sell side and back property to the Jones Library for their expansion/renovation.  Without the zoning change they could not sell any of their property because it would leave their facility "non conforming" according to residential zoning code.

On Monday night the Select Board briefly discussed the issue and heard that a "covenant" could become part of the article to ensure the property does not someday sell to another entity and become some other commercial enterprise.

Connie Kruger was concerned that would simply "muddy the water" and she pointed out the real problem is some people do not want the Jones Library to expand.  And a zoning article does require a challenging two-thirds vote of Town Meeting to pass.

 Jones Library is an economic engine for the downtown

A Jones Library representative is now scheduled to appear at the April 4 Select Board meeting to request the zoning issue be placed on the warrant.  The Select Board is signing the warrant that night but there's still time to add this article with a simple majority vote.

Since Town Meeting does not start until May 2 that allows enough time for the Planning Board to call a state mandated public hearing on the matter and issue their recommendation/report.

Then all it has to do is survive that zoning gauntlet know as Town Meeting.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Jones Library Expansion Hurdles

Strong House to rear and west of Jones Library

It's been a bad week for the Amherst Historical Society, owner of the Strong House Museum adjacent to the Jones Library, and by extension a not so great week for the Library.

On Monday in a marathon 3.5 hour meeting the Community Preservation Act Committee failed to fund an $18,000 request from the Historical Society to fund needed legal work to "clear the deed" of the Strong House which came to them donated -- but with a do not disturb provision.

Without being able to legally break the will they would not be able to sell property at the rear and east of the Strong House for the Jones Library expansion.

Additionally,  at tonight's Trustees Meeting they learned from Jones Library Director Sharon Sharry the selling of the land would make the Strong House "non conforming" in the current R-G (residential) zoning.

Thus the Historical Society will now be requesting a zoning change at a Special Town Meeting to occur in the middle of the regular Spring Town Meeting to change the zoning to B-G (business).

This of course requires a two-thirds vote.

 Former long time Gazette/Bulletin house & gardens columnist Cheryl Wilson reads statement of concern about gardens

To make matters worse the first 25 minutes of the meeting was taken up by concerned members of the Amherst Garden Club and other patrons over the fate of the Kinsey Garden and the Strong House 18th Century Garden, which seem to sit in the way of the proposed expansion.

 Jones Library Trustees (President, Austin Sarat on right)

The Trustees did vote unanimously to allow Chair Austin Sarat to issue a statement of support for a zoning change after the Historical Society meets on Tuesday and issues their zoning change request to the Amherst Planning Board.

Furthermore the Trustees also unanimously supported a Memorandum Of Understanding with the Historical Society concerning the possible purchase of the property.

 Strong House front yard all the way to Amity Street not part of the sale

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Little Library Expansion Looms Large

Jones Library may purchase land behind them from Amherst Historical Society

Last week Jones Library Director Sharon Sharry updated the Finance Committee about plans for the Library expansion/renovation, and this morning added the Joint Capital Planning Committee to the list.

The Library project is maybe just a step behind the $65 million Wildwood School Building Renovation project. Fortunately both the Schools and Jones Library have the advantage of state money covering half the costs.

The ornate bank building next door, owned by Barry Roberts, is off the table as an acquisition for the expansion as is Central Fire Station. The bank building, with an assessed value of $2.3 million, would be cost prohibitive and taking it off the tax rolls would only add to that cost year after year.

And the Fire Station will hopefully be sold to a private developer to help finance the new South Fire Station with an expanded mixed use building springing up in its place.

 Cramped Central Station opened in 1930 when emergency equipment was a tad smaller

Knowing that four major building projects totaling upwards of $100 million in town money are now being talked about, the Library Director assured the JCPC,  "We will renovate as much as possible, expand as little as possible, to keep the price as low as possible."

Sharry said the Library is also seeking Historic State Tax Credits that could result in a few million towards the construction costs.

 CVS lot behind Jones Library could become site for new parking garage, which would solve library parking concerns

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Jones Library Architects Chosen

Jones Library, Amherst's living room

The Jones Library Board of Trustees voted unanimously this morning to hire Finegold Alexander Architects for the "planning and design phase" of the renovation expansion that could see the town center icon double in size.

 Jones Library Trustees voted unanimously to hire Finegold Alexander Architects

The firm impressed the subcommittee charged with coming up with a recommendation out of the five firms who applied for the job because they have great experience with historical preservation, including the Holyoke Public Library and currently the UMass Old Chapel.

The Boston based firm also has strong local contacts, including as their consultants Amherst architect John Kuhn and landscape architect Peter Wells.

Finegold Alexander are the architects for renovation of UMass iconic Old Chapel

The Jones Library e-x-p-a-n-s-i-o-n, which could cost as high as $40 million, comes at a time when the town is also considering three other major building projects: A new South Fire Station and Department of Public Works building, and a new elementary school.

Only the school and library projects are covered by state grants, roughly half the total costs.

The Jones Library already received a $50,000 grant to cover design/planning from the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners and Amherst Town Meeting appropriated $25,000 in matching funds.

The cost of this contract is for up to $50,000.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Learning From History

Simeon Strong House built 1744
Strong House (hidden by tree) adjacent to Jones Library on right

Amherst Historical Society outgoing President Jim Wald updated the membership at their annual meeting this afternoon about two exciting projects now underway, including a possible physical joining with the adjacent Jones Library and a high tech archaeological study of the Museum grounds.

The Strong House is one of the oldest properties in Amherst set well back from Amity Street, so the front and side yards are pretty much undisturbed from the way they were over 270 years ago.

Jim Wald on final day as Amherst Historical Society President (replaced by Georgia Barnhill)

Last month UMass Archaeological Services used ground penetrating radar to map the entire grounds looking for signs of buried treasure.  Not so much coins and jewelry but anything that was man made, possible discarded, and now remains hidden below the surface.

Old outhouses are considered the mother lode because household trash was often deposited along with biodegradable wastes.

Ground Penetrating Radar overlay on drone photo

The $20,000 study, paid for with Community Preservation Act historical preservation funds, also included drone shots of the property overlayed with the ground penetrating radar results, as well as infra red photos from above.

Infra red drone shot

Study results should be available before spring.

The Strong House now houses over 7,000 individual artifacts dating back to the founding of Amherst, but the overcrowded facility lacks climate control.

Museum officials have been pursuing an alliance with the Jones Library, especially now since the Library is in the process of expanding with the state covering half the cost.

The Strong House was donated to the Amherst Historical Society with the condition it remain in its original state as a Museum, and should that covenant be broken ownership would revert to the Massachusetts Historical Commission (who does not like to own buildings).

Museum officials have placed a $42,000 proposal before the Community Preservation Act Committee for funding to work out the legal problems associated with a possible merger with the Jones Library, or simply expanding the building.

In addition the money will also pay for repairs to the exterior of the building and a dendrochronology study of the wood to determine more exact dating of various parts of the building.

Friday, December 11, 2015

All Things Digital

Jones Library:  Amherst's living room

The Jones Library is submitting a $35,000 request to Joint Capital Planning Committee, the guardians and first hurdle for FY17 equipment requests, for a new computer server and consulting help to expand the capabilities of Digital Amherstwhich is currently at capacity.

This will allow Special Collections to continue adding material for convenient online availability, especially Audio Video materials that are a bit of a data hog.

One such item is the recorded voice of poet Robert Frost speaking at the Jones when a room in his honor was first dedicated.

 The new server is estimated to last at least five years before hitting capacity. Most of the JCPC request ($22,000 of the total) is for one time start up consulting costs but the ongoing annual maintenance duties will be handled in-house by the town Information Technology Department.

Jones Library Board of Trustees meeting this morning

The Jones Library Board of Trustees voted unanimously to support the $35,000 request which is separate from the $2,468,186 overall FY17 budget, a 2.34% increase over last year.

This falls within Finance Committee guidelines of no more than a 2.5% increase from last year.

In addition Library Director Sharon Sharry told the Trustees she is setting up a Go Fund Me internet donation campaign with a target goal of $40,000, which represents the amount lost from the operation budget when the draw from the endowment was reduced to 4% from the previous 4.5% mark.

The Jones Library Endowment now stands at $7.25 million.

The Board of Trustees also voted unanimously to support placing the $2.46 million FY17 budget before Town Meeting. Library Director Sharon Sharry said of the annual budget, "We're in a fine place this year."

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Sprucing Up The Town's Living Room

Jones Library:  "The town's living room"

Downtown anchor and all around gem in the bag of treasured municipal buildings, the Jones Library is a destination spot that attracts thousands of customers of all ages and socioeconomic standings.

One of the many attractions is the comfortable interior that allows one to settle in for concentrated study of important historical documents, the latest non-fiction best seller, or just a casual reading of the local newspapers (all two of them).

Like The Case Of The Purloined Letter, a real treasure lurks in the background that quietly contributes to the Jones overall ambiance: paintings, statues and rugs.

 Cindy Harbeson (far left) waiting to present to Jones Library Trustees Thursday morning

Recently hired Special Collection Director Cindy Harbeson updated the Board of Trustees on her department which included the public relations outreach, increased security for priceless collection materials and a current appraisal for all the furnishings scattered about the entire Library:

The Library will be unveiling a half-dozen paintings that were recently restored via $10,000 in Community Preservation Act monies Town Meeting approved in 2011, on Sunday, November 22nd.

I can't think of a better way of bringing brightness to an otherwise sad anniversary.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Library Expansion Moves Forward

A gregarious Jones Library Trustees moment this morning

The Jones Library Board of Trustees voted unanimously this morning on a bevy of issues relating to the future expansion/renovation of the downtown icon, including approval of the 5-year "long range plan", Request for Qualifications approval (leading to an Owners Project Manager) and giving a "museum quality" home to the recently refurbished Civil War tablets. 

Trustee Chair Austin Sarat called the idea of housing the sacred historic tablets "an unbelievably cool thing," but he was a little concerned about the installation and upkeep costs.

Direct Sharon Sharry replied the state grant would cover half the cost of constructing the roof over their heads as part of the routine renovations and the town, using Community Preservation Act funding, was going to pay for the actual installation costs and what little upkeep would be required.

The town will now craft a legal agreement guaranteeing the tablets go to the Library, as Director Sharry did not want to have a special custom spot built for them and then have the town change its mind.

A second agreement would stipulate that the tablets are on "permanent loan" but remain town property. 

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Tour de Jones (Library That Is)

Jones Library: Amherst's living room.  Strong House back left

Library Director Sharon Sharry gave the local media a guided tour of the flagship Jones Library last week in the hopes of dispelling rumors that have been circulating lately about the much anticipated renovation/expansion of the 57,000 square foot icon that anchors the downtown.  

The building was last renovated/expanded back in 1992 so it is now eligible for grant funding by the state that will cover roughly 50% of the entire project, preliminarily guesstimated at $10 million.

Library Director Sharon Sharry laments no staffed receiving area for incoming customers after first entering main door

Unlike the renovation of 23 years ago this time around the entire contents of the Jones Library -- 172,000 books, videos and CDs, the entire 28,000 items in Special Collections, and 20+ banker's boxes of financial records -- will be moved into an interim operating space.

The project could take up to two years but since an architect has not yet been chosen it's unknown how large the building expansion will be.

 Employee parking is cramped and results in "dings" from other vehicles looking for parking
Only 2 handicapped spaces are provided

Either way, parking is a major issue that needs addressing.  The formula the state uses is one parking space per 400 square feet of building.  Thus, just the current foot print of the building would require 143 spaces for patrons.  And at the moment the Jones Library has but 2 handicapped and 7 "employee only" parking spaces.

 CVS & town parking lot next door

The other major issue that could scuttle public support for the project (Town Meeting) is the fate of the greenery behind the Jones and the side garden currently owned by the Strong House, which could soon be sold to facilitate the expansion. 

Kinsey Memorial Gardens behind the Jones

Since neither the Library or Strong House are contemplating any construction in their front yards the only place left for an increase in footprint for the Jones is either directly behind or to the side of the Strong House, both of which are now occupied by greenery.

 Strong House garden to the rear of the Library

But Library Director Sharon Sharry was adamant that whichever garden requires eviction it will be replicated elsewhere on the property, something that is commonly approved by Conservation Commissions when a construction project endangers wetlands.

 Adult and Children's computers are in separate rooms
Children have 4 computers and 2 game stations

In this digital age it's tempting to think of libraries as antiquated as, say, newspapers.

But the Jones Library has kept pace with changing technology, offering audio and books on tape for a generation now, DVDs and of course in-house computers for the general public.

The current crop of 20 computers for adults and 4 for children is too few, and the space too limiting.

 Children's Room

The Children's Room is also too tiny, the shelving too tall and materials are spread out over three floors.   And like the rest of the Library, bad sight lines keep employees from being able to monitor the big picture. 

Cameras are more reactive than proactive

The Library added security cameras two years ago as a safety feature trying to keep down inappropriate sexual activity by teens and the occasional criminal act (drug use or stealing of library materials) but by and large have not been overly successful. 

The Jones offers a bevy of "non traditional" services found only in Amherst:  An English as a Second Language program that will someday seamlessly connect to The Literacy Project (assisting patrons to acquire a GED).

Hwei-Ling Greeey acts as a 'Social Worker in Residence' helping to deal with Amherst's homeless population.  While the 'Artists in Residence' program allows the general public to interact with artists to better understand the creative process.

 Special Collections and Burnett Gallery needs more space
Burnett Gallery

The Special Collections Department is world renowned for their priceless collection of Emily Dickinson and Robert Frost materials. And the Burnett Gallery offers space for local artists to display the fruits of their labor.

Archive materials stored under a sprinkler head

On average the Jones hosts 1,000 unique visitors per day and circulates as much material as the BIG city library in Springfield. Yet the only check out location is cramped and can be staffed by -- at most -- two employees.

Whether the expansion project is approved by the Mass Board of Library Commissioners and then Amherst Town Meeting or not, the aging infrastructure will still require extensive improvements -- especially the 30 year old Heating Ventilation Air Conditioning system.

The pretty glass atrium installed in the 1992 renovation never worked properly and continues to leak during a rainstorm or in the winter when snow accumulates.  Just these two items alone cost close to $1 million and would be entirely town money.

 Atrium is leaky and allows in too much sunlight

In addition to the Jones Library expansion three other major building projects are now in the pipeline: The Wildwood Elementary School project, the forever talked about new South Fire Station and a new Department of Public Works building.

Both the Library and School projects have the distinct advantage of state reimbursements. All the more reason town officials need to promote all four of these vital upcoming building projects as an all-or-nothing package.