Letter: Libraries And Schools

Children's Room, Jones Library. Photo: Art Keene

A library is more than its building or its stacks of books and reading materials. Among many other benefits, a strong public library supports and nurtures literacy and a love of learning among all children in a community, from toddlers to teens. Our Jones Library is limited in its ability to fully serve our children and families in this way because its building is in desperate need of renovation and repair. The Jones Library building project provides Amherst the opportunity to change that if we choose to vote yes on November 2.

The choice is not between the Jones Library or the elementary school building: we need both. Funding the Jones Library building project will not impact our ability to fund the school building project–each project is supported by its own significant grant funding from the state. The choice in front of voters is about what sort of library and what sort of community we want.

The Jones Library building project will provide a safe, child-centered space where young children can explore a wide variety of books and media, engage in creative play, or hear stories read aloud. A space that supports their literacy development and joy in learning — and can help prepare them for school. A revitalized and expanded Jones will provide a safe and inspiring space for youth book groups and creative activities to support children as they grow and learn, augmenting their learning in school.  A revitalized and expanded Jones will provide older kids and teens an inclusive and safe space of their own with free internet for group work and quiet reading or studying, supporting them through middle and high school.

The choice we face on November 2 is not about how much money we will invest in the Jones Library building. Multiple studies have made it clear that we will need to pay the same amount or more to simply repair the Jones Library building as we would for the proposed expansion and renovation, thanks to the state grant and private fundraising in support of the project.  And, multiple comprehensive analyses and reports from the town show that we have the financial capacity to fund the town’s portion of the costs for both the Jones Library and the elementary school building projects.

So, the decision we face on November 2 isn’t about money; it’s about what sort of community we want. The decision on November 2 isn’t either library or school. We can, and must, choose both.

A vote to support the Jones Library building project is a vote in favor of the transformational impact that literacy and learning have on the lives of all our community members; it is a vote to support the children and families in our community.

Allison McDonald

Allison McDonald is a resident of Amherst. She notes that this letter expresses her personal opinions and not those of the school committee of which she is a member.

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14 thoughts on “Letter: Libraries And Schools

  1. Ms McDonald-re: your statement, “Multiple studies have made it clear…And, multiple comprehensive analyses and reports…show…”. Would you please direct me to where to view these? I ask only because I cannot locate them and would like to do my due diligence before I vote on the Library issue. Thank you.

    Sean Burke

  2. Just imagine a refurbished version of the children’s room pictured above. Horrid fluorescent light fixtures gone, bright new floor covering, carefully planned furniture and shelving arrangement- plenty of room for books and other materials, from looking at all the bare shelf space. This could have happened years ago and shouldn’t be used to justify adding 17,000+ sq. ft. to the Trustees’ building.

  3. @Sean Burke: I too have found it hard to find the multiple reports that have been prepared over time, but with some digging, I found two pages with links to a multitude of reports, presentations, and data. (Links to those pages at the bottom.)

    That, of course, is part of the challenge — sifting through the mounds of reports and videos takes time. I’ve found the following items to be most helpful and are what I reference in my letter:
    ~ Report from Kuhn Riddle on its study of options and cost estimates to repair the Jones, which itself is based on an earlier study by Western Builders (pages 4-5 provide a high-level summary): https://www.joneslibrary.org/DocumentCenter/View/5979/Jones-Library-Accessibility-Review-and-Recommendations-June-10-2020-PDF
    ~Presentation for the 2019 community listening sessions summarizing the four capital projects and how the Town could afford all four: https://www.amherstma.gov/DocumentCenter/View/49530/Capital-Investments-Overview-Slide-Presentation?bidId=
    ~ FAQ from that same event: https://www.amherstma.gov/DocumentCenter/View/49528/Frequently-Asked-Questions-12-2-19?bidId=
    ~ Presentation to the Finance Committee in February 2021 on financial models to fund all four major capital projects: https://www.amherstma.gov/DocumentCenter/View/54795/FinCom-21621
    ~ and, an updated presentation to the Finance Committee from March 2021: https://www.amherstma.gov/DocumentCenter/View/55358/QA-For-FinCom-Draft-3-27-21
    ~Report from the Joint Capital Planning Committee that describes the Town’s proposed 5-year capital spending plan and includes all four major capital project: https://www.amherstma.gov/DocumentCenter/View/55493/FY22-JCPC-Report-4221-Final?bidId=
    ~ This page on the Town website links to even more material about capital planning and budgets: https://www.amherstma.gov/2276/Capital-Planning
    ~ This page on the Jones Library website links to even more material about the Jones Library building project: https://joneslibrary.org/buildingproject

    I hope these are helpful to you in making your decision.
    Allison

  4. But Allison, these reports just say that there’s a way for the town to legally fund the projects. I had my head (fast-)talked off years ago by a trustee until I realized what they were actually saying.

  5. I urge everyone to take Allison’s advice to learn more about the four capital projects at https://www.amherstma.gov/2276/Capital-Planning. Please take just a few minutes to skim through these two crucial presentations:

    Kaestle Boos Associates’ April, 2017 report and estimates for a new fire station, projected to cost $23,900,000; and
    Weston and Sampson’s March 2016 report on a new DPW headquarters – assessing five sites, with cost estimates ranging from $36,757,000 to $42,025,000. Both reports present full-color, graphic evidence of the run down, even dangerous condition of both facilities.

    How can we have any confidence in the numbers when we’re now told that the fire station will cost $15,000,000 and the DPW facility $20,000,000?

  6. Noah and Allison-Thank you for providing the links above. I read through the information and, unfortunately, was left with more questions than answers. Allison-specific to your assertions I referenced earlier and the links provided in response-although interesting reads, the Jones Library group is not in a position to assess what the Town or taxpayers can afford. Neither would be any architectural firm. And, as I understand, MBLA grants are also available specifically for renovations. So, all (grant monies) would not be lost if we chose that option made difficult to consider since, for some reason, no actual “study” for such has been done. In the Town documents I found contradictions I couldn’t sort (e.g., the Town is in good financial form yet we can’t afford to address the roads and sidewalks in disrepair) and vague answers to some important questions. I am left to wonder why the Library project, presented just years ago and for a building the Town doesn’t own, is being put before others determined in serious need for many more years. Indeed libraries are important, I know of no one who doesn’t believe that, but so are education, infrastructure and public safety. Most significant to me was reading over and over throughout the Town material that “at least one override” would be necessary for any major capital event after the Library project, which won’t require one. Again, thank you for your assistance. Best, Seán

  7. Unfortunately, MBLC (Mass Board of Library Commissioners) capital grants are simply not available in the way Sean Burke implies. The construction grant rounds come around infrequently and the next opportunity will not likely occur for another 4+ years from now at the earliest. So in fact, all grant monies ($13 million+ of our tax dollars that have gone to Boston) would be lost forever to the next community(ies) currently on the MBLC construction grant waitlist. He is sort of correct in stating that a grant could be used for renovation. Indeed, a large part of the current grant will be used to renovate the 1928, historic portion of the Jones. The result of this is that much more of the historic portion of the building will be used by the public.

    However, a grant proposal to MBLC that simply tried to renovate the existing building would not be competitive, and would therefore not be awarded, leaving the Town to foot the entire cost of renovation itself. The plain truth is that this project will only get more expensive with time. The benefits of doing this project now, and making the Library a better place for everyone in the community, are substantial. Please vote “Yes” and consider making a generous pledge to the capital campaign too.

  8. I would just add to Matt’s point above that we are only able to use the MBLC grant to support renovations that go along with the programing improvements – MBLC will not fund renovations on their own. We are being fiscally conservative by rolling in many expensive upgrades into this grant. Without it, we will need to spend nearly the same amount for the bare minimum upgrades. More details on that here: https://www.joneslibrary.org/CivicSend/ViewMessage/Message/156023

  9. Please – Let us be very clear about what Massachusetts regulations allow the MBLC to fund in a construction grant for an “Addition, Expansion or Extension” of a public library. Those are the types of construction project that the MBLC’s current grant round includes.

    There is but ONE requirement. It is: “Work which will result in an increase in the overall external dimensions of a public library facility.” That is it. Please see Title 605, Code of Massachusetts Regulations, Section 6.02. No minimum increase is required.

    A treatment of the Atrium area resulting in even a very small such increase would have qualified for a grant. I am a former Library Trustee, and verified this several years ago with an MBLC architect.

    The Jones Library’s proposed demolition/construction project would spend some $7.4 million — that is, more than half of the MBLC’s $13.8 million grant amount — first to demolish 40% of the existing Library building, then to replace it with new construction. How “fiscally conservative” is that?

    Please also note: The regulations do, in fact, allow the MBLC to fund Alterations, i.e., “Work required to modify or adjust the interior space arrangement or other physical characteristics of an existing public library facility so that it may be more effectively utilized for its present designated functional purposes.” 605 CMR 6.02. In its current grant round, however, the MBLC chose not to do so.

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