Letter: Jones Expansion Project Is No Longer Affordable. It’s Time To Explore Alternatives
When is it time to give up on a dream? When is it time to abandon a project that has had so much time, effort, and money invested in it? When is it time to recognize that despite one’s best efforts, the reality of the situation has become so complex and so difficult to manage, that the best way forward is to not continue, and to look again at the roads not taken? I would argue that the Jones Library project is now at this moment.
Looked at dispassionately, this is now a $50 million project that does provide needed renovation, but that also results in a net gain of only about 15,000 square feet, that requires the demolition and replacement of a still-serviceable, 25-year-old, ADA-compliant, $5 million addition, and the removal of much of the aesthetic beauty of the current building. Additionally, it requires the displacement of much of the library’s collection to parts unknown for an unknown period of time, thus seriously reducing residents’ access to materials. It seems more and more that what Amherst will gain for this sum – which itself likely will continue to escalate – is simply not worth the cost. For this much money, the question that should be asked is this: Why not simply build a new library in a new location?
Such a change in plans will of course mean that the current MLBC grant cannot be accepted, and there is no guarantee that this amount of money will be available in the future. But there is a new, post-pandemic reality that simply must be faced. The current project was approved at a cost of $36 million. It has now risen by an additional sum of $13 million – using the most hopeful projections, which themselves are hardly guaranteed. That is more than 30% of the original cost, and where this additional sum will come from seems based more on optimism and hopefulness, rather than on fiscal reality. It also does not take into account the interest that must be paid on the increased amount of borrowing that will be necessary.
If the Trustees continue to push this project, in the face of rapidly increasing costs and overly optimistic budget projections, and if they continue to maintain that its impact on other vital Town needs is not their concern, they will continue to widen the many divides that already afflict Amherst. Inflation has hit many residents hard, and to ask that they contribute even more – directly or indirectly – to the escalating costs of this project seems both unfair and arrogant. No one has said, “Leave the Jones Library as is. Do nothing.” It is possible to support renovations, additions, and enhancements to the library and its offerings that allow both taxpayers and the Town to stay within budget constraints that we all increasingly feel.
The Trustees’ best course of action is to stop, examine carefully the fiscal reality before them, and to recognize that this is not their only alternative. They will not lose face. Instead, by doing so, they will begin to bridge divides, and to find that the residents of Amherst are eager to collaborate to find creative solutions that will generate enthusiastic and widespread public support.
Denise Barberet lived in Amherst for 34 years and is a current resident of Chicopee