Opinion: A Glimpse Into The Jones Library Capital Campaign Looking Glass


Photo: flckr.com

The Jones Library Development Committee met via Zoom (unrecorded) on Monday, August 3. Participating were Lee Edwards (Chair) and Tamson Ely and  guests Treasurer Bob Pam and Kent Faerber, who is Co-Chair (with  Edwards) of the Friends of the Jones Library System Capital Campaign Committee. The latter committee, with paid consultants through a Jones Library fund, is responsible for overseeing fundraising for $6.1 million towards the proposed library demolition/expansion project. 

Approval of minutes of this committee’s last meeting, on 12/19/2019, was deferred because the minutes had not yet been written. The main agenda item was discussion of a motion to be presented at the next full Trustees’ meeting on August 13  (not yet posted). 

The motion discussed, and eventually approved, was not in the meeting packet and not presented on screen. My notes indicate that it approximately read: “The Jones Library, Inc. will enter into an agreement with the Town of Amherst if the Town commits to $21,750,789 for the Jones Library building project. The Jones Library will then provide $6.1 million and the Massachusetts Library Commission will provide $13.8 million.” There was also an addendum of possible ways to raise the Library’s share but that addendum was also not available in the packet or on screen. 

Treasurer Pam asked numerous questions throughout the session and stated, “It’s hard for me to support this” without specific information. Answering his questions became the focus of the meeting. 

1) What is the fundraising timeline? 

Chair Edwards responded that “fundraising is like a circle, a sphere, and not a line.  There is no clear starting point. We have to go forward.”

2) How can the Jones raise $6.1 million? 

Edwards noted that $350,000 has been pledged so far “not having done so much.”  It is not clear if this includes the $273,000 Van Steenberg unrestricted bequest which is now going toward the capital campaign or if this $350,000 is in addition to that bequest. 

She also noted that she is working with a former UMass legislative advisor who may lobby in Washington D.C. after the national election to see if there can be an “earmark” for the Jones or all libraries in Massachusetts to receive more money for library construction projects. It is my understanding that “earmarks” as such ended in 2011, yet there are other congressional mechanisms to funnel funding for particular projects. 

Edwards also noted that there is a tentative idea called “Terrific 200” in which 200 donors would be asked to contribute $5,000 a year for the five years towards the project for a subtotal of $25,000 each and an overall total of $1,000,000.

She also noted that Faerber will present a “scheme” at the August 13 Trustee meeting about how a loan might be taken on the Jones Building and/or a loan guaranteed using the endowment as collateral.  

I wonder how the library could ever repay such a loan as it is already having difficulty paying for expenses and staff, having not replaced at least four retired full timers over the last two years.

3) How were the amounts of fundraising (on the addendum) determined?

This question was not answered during the meeting. 

4) How do Historic Tax Credits work?

Faerber summarized this very complicated fundraising mechanism. “Being at the beginning of exploration, we need many more answers than today.”  He went on to say that the Library is hiring a “premier consultant” to work on historic tax credits. No name was provided.

Faerber declared that the library could get approval from the Massachusetts Historic Commission as well as the Amherst Historic Commission to sell a “tax credit” to an investor based upon the historic preservation costs of a project.  The investor who purchases such a “credit” can then use it on their own state and federal tax returns although they may not receive the entire amount of the purchase as a tax credit. 

This possibility will be a challenge for the Trustees for several reasons. There are no exact plans, as yet, for the renovation/demolition of the 1928 building. One can see from preliminary schematics that most staircases, working doors and fireplaces will be removed and most walls rearranged on all four floors.  

More importantly, the Historic Structures Report, funded by a CPA grant ($25,000) and the Amherst Historic Commission ($10,000) has not been finished. It was originally due in August, 2017. The Massachusetts Historic Commission asked for information about what will be altered in the 1928 section on 12/23/2016 but that request has not been completed either. Without specific details of what will actually be preserved, it will be difficult to apply for such tax credits.

Close to end of the meeting, Trustee Ely joked, “Maybe we have a painting we can sell?” referring to the Library’s controversial sale of a Bierstadt painting for $2.4 million which was critical in funding the 1993 addition, now slated for total demolition. She added that the Town should vote for the proposed project since it will cost the same as a refurbishment. This is not necessarily an accurate statement

Let’s all step back and take a breath! Are we in a Alice in Wonderland tea party? Federal congressional lobbying? Taking loans on the building? Using the endowment as collateral? The Jones has known for over five years that they need to raise funds toward the building project. They really do seem to be “at the beginning of exploration.”

State library grants have been delayed a year. Nevertheless, it is doubtful the library can raise this much money before the grant is given, maybe in July 2021. How can the Council approve at least $22 million plus debt service without knowing what the Jones can raise?

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