Does anyone really think that the 35% of voters in the 2021 Amherst election who cast “No” votes were opposed to the Jones Library? To the contrary, they were supporters of the Jones. Their “No” votes were the only way they could vote in favor of a library whose improvements would reflect rapidly changing information technology in a building the Town can afford to renovate.
Those votes were cast before the onset of the war in Ukraine, before this year’s great inflation, and before the Jones Library’s own paid experts told them, and us, that the proposed renovations would cost 40% more than originally planned. 40% more and still counting, because today’s inflation will not be disappearing tomorrow. The 65% who voted “Yes” will have to admit that the library they thought they were voting for does not, can not exist.
Because of this stunning, but not unexpected, new estimate the Jones Library’s Board of Trustees and the Town Manager are negotiating an Amendment to Memorandum of Agreement.
By the time you read this, that Amendment may have been signed, but as this is being written it remains a draft. One provision in the draft says: “Library Staff will work with Town staff, at least once every quarter from the date of this Agreement, to discuss the nature, feasibility and design of the Building Repairs and to develop a repair plan and schedule should the Project not proceed.” (emphasis is mine) Some might call that a Plan B.
Shouldn’t every large, expensive, game-changing project have a Plan B? At Tuesday’s meeting of the Library’s Board, most of its trustees didn’t think so. And in a letter to seven leaders of the Massachusetts legislature that day, asking for more state money for the original plan, the Library Board’s president wrote that if the original design had to be scrapped “The Town of Amherst will have to start over, and plan B will only be more expensive.” (emphasis is his)
In 1912 the world’s finest passenger ship left England for America. It was unsinkable. Less than five days later the Titanic hit an iceberg and sank. Its plan B was its life rafts, and because of them a third of its passengers and crew survived. Because the Library’s Board and staff are not much interested in creating a Plan B, Amherst’s Town Hall leadership must do their job for them.
The Town has committed $15,751,810 to the project and the President of the Town Council has declared that it would not expend any more of the Town’s money on the renovation. Actually, there is one other taxpayer commitment: $1,000,000 from the Community Preservation Act Committee. Thus there would be be $16,751,810 of Amherst taxpayer money available for a plan B, plus whatever the state government might provide, plus what the Library (if it fundraises in good faith) can raise in individual gifts and other grants. With positive commitments from the Town and Library leadership together, that could reliably approach $25,000,000 or even more. Let’s hope that the leadership of the Library will come to realize that a good Plan B can give us a Jones Library, renovated within its current footprint, that they can be proud of and the residents of Amherst will love.
Ken Rosenthal lives on Sunset Avenue in Amherst. He was Chair of the Zoning Board of Appeals and of the former Development and Industrial Commission, and was a member of the Select Committee on Goals for Amherst.