Committees Formed For And Against Jones Library Project

Jones Library. Photo Wikimedia Commons.

Two citizen committees have registered with the Town Clerk’s office, one opposing and one supporting the  referendum on the appropriation of  $35.3 million for the Jones Library demolition/expansion project. The vote will occur on November 2, the same day as town-wide elections.

The Vote NO – Start Over Smart (SOS) committee opposes the library project as currently proposed.  According to chair Terry Johnson, SOS supporters agree that the Jones Library needs extensive improvements and that using state money through the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners would be ideal.   However, she said the committee opposes the scale, scope, and price tag of the proposed demolition, renovation, and expansion. “The project, with scant community outreach, got off on the wrong foot in the earliest planning stages. A successful No Vote campaign would force the town to embrace a more modest, environmentally sensible, and affordable project”, Johnson said. 

“Planning a library based on a user population of 51,000 borrowers when there are only 19,000 card holders makes no sense,” Johnson said. “Deciding to demolish the entire 1993 handicapped-accessible addition without any formal study is wasteful. It will cost over $7,440,000 to replace that square footage alone.”

Committee Treasurer Christina Platt said that SOS aims to educate voters about all aspects of the project. “I wonder whether supporters realize that 1,660 tons of building debris will be hauled to a landfill,” she said. “And that 33,000 square feet of new construction is required. There are countless examples of innovative renovations designed to avoid needless destruction. This oversized effort is heartbreaking.”   

The committee can be contacted at: votenostartoversmart@gmail.com

The Vote Yes for Our Library committee was formed to support the referendum and the project in general.Chair of this group, Kent Faerber also serves as co-chair of the Friends of the Jones Library System (Friends) capital campaign committee and the Friends Development Committee for the annual fund.  MaryAnn Grim is treasurer. The Friends is a non-profit organization whose sole function is to raise money for the Jones’ system. Their meetings are not open to the public. The Friends do not have their own website but have several web pages through the Jones Library website.  

Both Faerber and Grim are on the leadership team of Amherst Forward, one of two political action committees (PACs) in Amherst. Progressive Coalition of Amherst (PCA), an opposing PAC, was recently established.

“We are confident that Amherst voters will affirm the decisive 10-2 vote of their elected Town Council to fund the Jones Library Building Project,” Faerber said. “After all, almost 75% of those who contacted their councilors about the vote are in favor of accepting state funds to renovate and expand our library. We all agree the building needs significant attention. Doing nothing is not an option.”

Residents can contact this committee at: voteyesforourjoneslibrary@gmail.com

The referendum is the result of a lawsuit filed last May. Of 1088 signatures gathered to support the referendum, 264 were uncertified by the Town Clerk’s office leaving the petitioners 22 signatures short of the number necessary to trigger a referendum. Plaintiffs in the case assert that many signatures were rejected illegally.  

Town Council voted on August 2 to put the referendum on the ballot November 2, citing fear of escalating legal fees.  The wording of the ballot question will be as follows:

QUESTION: Shall the following measure authorizing a borrowing for the expansion and renovation of the Jones Library, as voted by the Town Council on April 5, 2021, be affirmed?

BE IT ORDERED by the Town Council of the Town of Amherst that: The Town appropriate $35,279,700 for the expansion and renovation of the Jones Library, and to meet this appropriation, authorize the Treasurer, with the approval of the Town Manager, to borrow said amount, under and pursuant to M.G.L. Chapter 44, Section 7, 8, or pursuant to any other enabling authority, and to issue bonds or notes of the Town therefore, which borrowing shall be reduced to the extent of any grants received from the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners, funds received from The Jones Library, Incorporated in an amount no less than $5,656,576 which, in addition to the $1,000,000 previously appropriated under the Community Preservation Act, represents the Library’s share of the total project cost, and/or any other source to pay costs of this project; and, further, any premium received by the Town upon the sale of any bonds or notes approved by this vote, less any such premium applied to costs of issuance of such bonds or notes, may be applied to project costs approved by this vote with a reduction of borrowing authority therefore by a like amount in accordance with M.G.L. Chapter 44, Section 20.

SUMMARY: On April 5, 2021, the Town Council voted with 10 in favor, 2 opposed, and 1 abstention, to authorize a borrowing for the expansion and renovation of the Jones Library. The Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners has awarded the Town a grant of approximately $13.8 million for this project with payments starting this year; approximately $5.7 million will be provided through private donations as set forth in an agreement with the Jones Library Board of Trustees; and $1.0 million was appropriated from the Community Preservation Act funds. With these funds secured, the Town’s share of the total project costs will be approximately $15.8 million. A “yes” vote on this question means that you affirm the Council’s vote to fund the Library expansion and renovation project and want the project to continue. A “no” vote means that you reject the Council’s vote to fund the Library expansion and renovation project and do not want the project to continue.

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9 thoughts on “Committees Formed For And Against Jones Library Project

  1. This question is ambiguous to me. What is “authorizing a borrowing?” Is this approval of bonding requiring a 2/3 vote of the electorate? Or, legally more cagey: a simple majority approving the Council’s 2/3 vote for the bonding? It seems like Jones Library supporters win either way?

  2. Thanks to its resourceful and committed staff, the Jones is already a welcoming community hub with a full range of programs and services. Of course, everyone agrees that the building has been neglected and is in dire need of a thorough update.

    The Trustees, who own both the land and the building, have myriad options they could pursue that would avoid demolishing the 1993 addition (40% of the building) and spending $35.8 million. Yet they utterly refuse to consider any alternatives to their proposed demolition/expansion. Why?

  3. Regarding the Jones Library project and downtown housing:

    Does our Planning Board ever coordinate with the University of Massachusetts when large decisions are going to be made on housing and neighborhood facilities and other items?

    How is this done? If it is not done, why not?

    Dick Bentley

  4. 1) Hilda Greenbaum’s question above is very well taken indeed. What is the Town’s position? We Amherst voters deserve to know now, not afterward.

    2) “$35.8 million” is the figure given since 2016 for the proposed Jones Library demolition/construction project. The true cost would be unknown millions of dollars more. However, the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners would pay $0.00 of this. The amount of its grant stays fixed as of 2016.

    Please note, in addition, that Town Council pegged proposed borrowing at that 2016 figure. This promises to strap Town taxpayers with substantially increased costs.

    So, add the millions of dollars in interest, of course. But also add the cost of protecting the historic, fragile, abutting Strong House from damage due to demolition and construction vibrations, or else repairing that damage. Add construction cost inflation. The 2016 figure allowed only 3 years of it. Add hundreds of thousands of dollars in sustainability features, tacked on belatedly: the original plans failed to qualify for even the lowest level of LEED certification.

    Add untold costs for yet additional architects’ time and even more design changes. Why? To comply at last, 5 years late, with the Massachusetts Historical Commission’s administration of our historic preservation law. Where state money is involved, this requires eliminating, minimizing, and mitigating “adverse effects” on a historic property, interior as well as exterior. The current designs are rife with “adverse effects.” These include removing the beloved carved walnut staircase in the Library’s lobby, and altering the Library’s elegant main entrance by adding a plexiglas-type canopy.

    In this November’s referendum, I support Vote NO : Start Over Smart (SOS). As a former Library Trustee president, I am well aware that the Jones Library building badly needs better upgrades. First, though, it badly needs better thought.

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