Project essential investment in Jones Library

By Kent Faerber

Sarah McKee’s guest column (“Jones Library project too large and costly,” Feb. 17) does not represent the views of a large and growing group (Jones Library For Everyone) who believe that the renovation and expansion of the Jones Library is an essential investment in one of the institutions that make Amherst a unique place to live.

Amherst’s library should be special, but its founders had an even more radical vision — the library could help sustain that special character of the town by ensuring that everyone is attracted to it. A theater, exhibition spaces and an architectural style adopted not for aesthetic reasons but for its warm welcome to the town’s residents played a central role in sustaining the town’s cultural and civic life.

The proposal will provide a facility that, once again, can play that role for today’s Amherst. Far from “destroying” the library, the proposal has been endorsed by the Friends of the Jones Libraries, the Amherst Historical Society and Museum, The Literacy Project, the Burnett Gallery Committee, and many others who are signifying their support on the website of this group.

The proposal deserves careful study. It opens most of the 1928 building to the public again, and it provides the same kind of quiet, adult reading spaces featured in the original, but not now available.

Because of its fixed and confusing labyrinth of small rooms and its unworkable atrium, however, the professionals have made a convincing case that the 1993 addition can be more economically replaced by one that is both adaptable to future needs and welcoming with its light-filled, open interior.

Amherst’s residents deserve accurate reporting of the estimate of the project’s cost. The Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners (MBLC) grant application includes a professional estimate of $35.6 million. If awarded, the grant will supply $13.7 million, and $6 million is proposed from other funding sources, leaving $16 million to be funded by tax-supported bonding.

Adding the interest charges on that bonding serves only to frighten; when we buy homes we do not add mortgage interest to the price to evaluate our purchase. A more detailed analysis of the complex, but relatively modest annual impact on our taxes, is available online at joneslibraryforeveryone.org.

There will be plenty of opportunity to examine the project in great detail, but Amherst Town Meeting in the spring should take the risk-free next step in that process by approving the grant application to the MBLC.

And, as residents become convinced of the importance of this project to Amherst’s unique identity, they should make their views known.

Kent W. Faerber, a former member of the Amherst Historical Commission and the library’s board of trustees, is a member of the feasibility committee (and its design subcommittee) overseeing the design of the proposal, and one of the organizers of Jones Library For Everyone.

This letter originally appeared in The Amherst Bulletin.