Despite Fundraising Gains, Trustees Accept Uncertainty Of Library Expansion



Jones Library News Highlights For The Week Of May 15, 2023

Government Grants Leave Building Project Still Short
At the May 17 meeting of the Jones Library Board of Trustees, President Austin Sarat heaped high praise on officials instrumental in the award of a $1 million National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) grant to build a Humanities Center on the library’s ground floor.  At the same time, he described a meeting with Town Manager Paul Bockelman where all agreed that the library roof and HVAC system would be immediate repair priorities should a lack of funding prevent the project from moving forward.

Noting last week’s press event to announce the NEH award, Sarat declared, “It was heartening to hear our congressman so wholeheartedly endorse the renovation and expansion project. It was heartening to hear our state representative speaking powerfully and articulately in endorsing the renovation project. It was heartening to hear Councilor Anika Lopes talk about how important this project is in preserving our community history, and how important that will be in making the Jones Library even more than now a place where people from all walks of life feel that they belong.”

Trustee and Library Capital Campaign Co-chair Lee Edwards reported that as of May 1, the campaign has raised $5.8 million in grants and pledges toward a commitment of $16.5 million as its share of the total project cost.  This total includes the $1 million federal grant and $11,888 in community pledges in the month of April.

The Jones Library Building Committee awaits an updated cost estimate expected in late May or early June which will indicate whether the total project cost has increased or decreased from its current estimate of $46.1 million.  The Amherst Town Council has authorized borrowing $35.3 million, which leaves the Jones Library and its Capital Campaign to cover the shortfall.


The Trustees did not confirm the identity of the firms conducting the new construction cost estimate.  The most recent “reconciled” estimate from last fall represents the average of estimates by Fennessy Consulting Services, hired by the project design firm, and Rider Levett Bucknall (RLB), hired independently by the Town.  At that time the Fennessy estimate was $6.4 million lower than the RLB estimate.

Trustee Alex Lefebvre, Chair of the Buildings & Facilities Committee, proposed a motion aimed at ensuring that “Plan B” for repairs only that is being developed jointly with Town staff include appropriate sustainability features. She moved that

“The Board of Trustees direct the Library Director to request multiple options in the procurement request for engineering services relative to the replacement of the HVAC systems at the Jones Library, including but not limited to a system that would comply with the Town’s sustainability statement relative to municipal building projects and options for standalone systems where practical, such as for the Special Collections rooms and the Woodbury room.”

Trustee Treasurer Bob Pam, who helped draft the motion, explained that if rising costs or a fundraising shortfall prevent the larger “Plan A” project from moving forward, repair work needs to serve the library through the foreseeable future, and should be as sustainable and usable as possible.

Sarat pointed out that the Trustees have agreed to pay $1.8 million toward Plan B repairs and so should be able to determine how that money is spent.

Pam replied that roof repairs and HVAC replacement may well cost more than $1.8 million, with the Town paying a share of the expense.

Director to Explore Dennis Quaid Promotional Video
Library Director Sharon Sharry reported that she has been approached by a producer from the video production company Viewpoint.  The representative proposed producing content promoting the value of the Jones Library that would be shown on Public Television.  The package includes a 3–5-minute documentary introduced by actor Dennis Quaid.

Sharry believes that the Library Capital Campaign would cover the expense. A trustee suggested that the cost might be $30,000.

Sharry said that a promotional video that describes Jones Library’s offerings would be very useful. The Trustees voted unanimously to authorize the Director to continue discussions with Viewpoint.

In other library news, Trustee Tamson Ely, Chair of the Personnel, Planning & Policy Committee (PPP), received approval for changing the name of the Equity, Justice & Inclusion Subcommittee (EJI) to the Justice, Equity, Diversity & Inclusion Subcommittee (JEDI).

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5 thoughts on “Despite Fundraising Gains, Trustees Accept Uncertainty Of Library Expansion

  1. “In other library news… (JEDI).”

    Not only were Yoda and Obi Wan Kenobi JEDI, but so was Darth Vader. As we learned from the STAR WARS ennealogy, it was crucial to discern the light side “The Force”!

    May the The Force be with the Jones Library Trustees — the light side….

  2. Regarding this promotional video which might cost $30,000 – who will be on the hook for that?

    It says in the article, “the Library Capital Campaign would cover the expense.” In the original Memorandum of Agreement of April 2021, it stated that the Trustees get to deduct “any direct and reasonable fundraising costs and expenses” from the Library’s share of the project. Unless this was amended in a later MOA, Amherst taxpayers will be paying at least some of the library’s fundraising campaign costs, if not all.

    The screenshot above shows campaign expenses of $179,823 to date. How much of that will be deducted from the library’s share? The Trustees have hired professional fundraising staff to secure grants and private donations. The school building project doesn’t benefit from professional fundraising staff to help secure grants to offset the cost of that project. Is it right that taxpayers should be on the hook for fundraising efforts to expand the privately-owned Jones library building? And now potentially paying $30,000 for a promotional video of the Jones? Is there any Town oversight of these fundraising expenses to determine what is in fact “reasonable”?

  3. Good points, Toni. There is a stark difference between Town oversight of Amherst public schools, and oversight over the private Jones Library, and the even more private Friends of the Jones Library Capital Campaign. A diversely representative Elementary School Building Committee guided development of the Fort River replacement plan, and worked to keep it as affordable to taxpayers as possible.

    The library renovation-expansion plan, on the other hand, was the product of the trustees, the library director and some politically savvy fundraisers. There was never any serious public discussion of whether tearing down and rebuilding the 1993 addition or building a 15,000 sq. ft. addition were cost justified. A well-orchestrated advocacy campaign, with help from the BID, Chamber of Commerce and Amherst Forward (a PAC top-heavy with library fundraisers), persuaded the Town Council to commit to borrowing $35.3 million in taxpayer funds for the project, at the same time that we are struggling to pay for a new school and fund numerous other priorities.

    I’m afraid that a $30,000 promotional video will be but a drop in the bucket of town funds that will be needed to keep the Jones expansion moving forward.

    The siloed nature of Jones Library governance and the private corporate status of its Capital Campaign have translated to limited accountability, except to a few citizen watchdogs who view the library power imbalance as unhealthy to the Town.

  4. Thanks Toni and Jeff. I was heartened to see that I am not alone in questioning whether it is “reasonable” to hire a Hollywood actor to create a fundraising video for the Jones Library. Nothing against Dennis Quaid (good performances in Breaking Away and Day After Tomorrow), but I wonder how many Amherst residents understand that taxpayers will ultimately pay the $30,000 for this video and for that matter, how many understand that the Town does not even own the Jones Library building? As a resident who devoted several years of effort to the website “Save Jones Library” tracking one “unreasonable” asinine decision after another, it appears the professional fundraisers/public relations marketers hired by the elite Jones Library Trustees are still attempting to create enough momentum for a mega-library that the Town and its residents do not need and cannot afford. If this project goes forward, in a few years it would be just another “what were they thinking” Amherst moment, with residents navigating abysmal streets and sidewalks, and paying some of the highest property taxes in the region.

  5. Actually, that $30,000 doesn’t even get you a Hollywood actor for the full three to five minutes of the documentary. Mr. Quaid will apparently only introduce the documentary. I can’t tell if this is some sort of last-ditch desperation to try to open the fundraising floodgates, or merely a continued sense of obliviousness to reality.

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