Fact Check: This Week At The Jones Library, September 6 -12

Architects rendering of the proposed renovated Jones Library. Feingold Alexander Architects. Photo: Jones Library

Videri Quam Esse
(To Seem To Be Rather Than To Be)

The Jones Library weekly email newsletter continues its column about the proposed library demolition/expansion project. Residents can sign up for this newsletter by following the link https://www.joneslibrary.org/list.aspx and going to “News Flash – Jones Library News.”

I will fact check this column for The Indy. Statements from The Jones are quoted from their newsletter below in italics

Jones Building Project Update
Part I

Over the next several weeks, we will be inviting our readers to view a series of recordings of a tour of the Jones that was given to patrons in early 2020. We think it is important for folks to be able to see the Library building in its entirety; we hope these recording will give residents a more complete picture of the problems the Jones building presents to staff and patrons alike. Please enjoy Episode #1 with Board President Austin Sarat. Video link is here.

In this video, Jones Library Board President Austin Sarat invites viewers to “see and imagine.” See the condition of the library now and imagine what the $35.8 million building project would create. 

What’s MISSING in the video? There is little talk of the fact that the entire 1993 addition, which represents 40 percent of the current Jones, will be destroyed. To replace this square footage will cost $7,440,400 of the total $35.8 million project (excluding debt service). This $7.4 million-plus cost does not include the fees for demolition, nor landfill charges for dumping the 1,660 tons of concrete, steel, brick, and slate that was part of the Jones Library. Nor does it account for the environmental costs of the demolition.

Why have the Trustees failed to “imagine” the possibilities of repurposing and renovating the entire Library without demolition? The Trustees dismissed this option without examination early in the design process, and have never hired a space planner to analyze the current use of the entire library and how it could be better used if given a chance. 

Part II

“After hiring outside counsel to conduct a fund-raising feasibility study, the library’s board projected that costs would be covered by the $4.4 million state grant, a $2.5 million capital campaign, $7.1 million in municipal bonding, and a $0.5 million contribution from the HPL endowment fund. The board was hesitant to tap into the endowment but believed that it was critical to use it to leverage the bonding from the city. At the same time, the library’s advisers began to develop a contingency plan to access New Markets Tax Credits (NMTC) to fill a potential gap. NMTC had never been used on a stand-alone library project in New England but seemed to be ideal for a one located in the center of four of the poorest census tracts in Massachusetts.”
Matthew A. Blumenfeld, “Holyoke Public Library’s Role in Revitalizing a City,” Communities & Banking, Fall 2014 

This statement is MISSING INFORMATION. Matthew Blumenfeld, President of Amherst-based Financial Development Agency (FDA), was the development and marketing consultant responsible for the Holyoke Public Library’s capital campaign. 

Blumenfeld’s company has also had significant contracts with the Jones since 2014 and currently has a contract for the Jones’ capital campaign initiative, under the umbrella of the Friends of the Jones Library.  

His quote serves to propose to newsletter readers that, like the Holyoke Library, the Jones may withdraw money from its endowment to pay for part of the cost of the demolition/expansion project. The Library cannot function without a robust endowment, however; the endowment supports 67 percent of the Jones’ share of the total annual Library budget.

The Trustees recently voted to enter into negotiations with the Town of Amherst, and are requesting that the Town now commit to a $22 million (plus debt service) loan for the Town’s portion of the proposed capital project before the provisional state grant is even awarded. 

The Jones will then commit to pay $6 million towards the Town’s $22 million share, to be paid near the end of construction. If the Jones is unable to reach this fundraising goal, then it will apply for a bank loan using its endowment as collateral. Kent Faerber, Co-Chair of the Capital Campaign Committee, has already stated that raising $6 million is unlikely. Jones Board Treasurer Bob Pam voted against this scenario.

The Holyoke project was less than half of the projected cost of the Jones’ proposal. Holyoke has a population of 40,000 with their library at 40,500 sq. ft. The normalized population of Amherst is 18,593, as stated by the Trustees in their January 2020 Community Preservation Act grant application. Yet the Jones Library is already 48,000 square feet, and the demolition /expansion would result in 65,000 square feet. 

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