OUR BELOVED JONES LIBRARY IS UNDER THREAT
Save Our Library (SOL) is a group of Jones Library patrons and former Library Trustees who are alarmed that the Jones Library Trustees' "Library Building Project" would demolish 40% of the Jones Library in Amherst, Massachusetts. The Plan would forever alter the Jones Library's warm, home-like interior and wastefully demolish the well-built, 1990s brick addition that blends with its historic neighbors. The Jones Library is a historic treasure that has brought Amherst together as a community for generations. Families in and around our Town have brought their children to enjoy the coziness of the Children's Room. Adults come to the Library and enjoy being tucked away to read in the nooks and crannies of this homey space. Virtually everyone agrees that the Jones Library needs a Renovation. SOL opposes what is actually a Demolition-Expansion Plan because it would wastefully demolish the well-built brick 1990s Addition (with both slate and metal roof), paid off in 2010, and also would require destroying the Kinsey Memorial Garden. This Demolition-Expansion Plan is extravagant, wasteful and unnecessary. The Plan was developed from a grand "wish-list" created at the request of the Library Director, which would require expanding from the current 48,000 sq. ft. to a jaw-dropping 110,000 sq. ft. that was scaled down to 65,000 sq ft. This Plan is based on a "new and bigger is better" philosophy that is in sharp contrast to the sustainable practice of preserving historic buildings. Downtown Amherst is already being impacted by 5-story buildings springing up in our historic district that are changing the character of our small historic college town. The Trustees' Demolition-Expansion Plan for the Jones Library is the latest evidence of this philosophy in our town.
OUR GRASSROOTS EFFORT
SOL is a GRASSROOTS effort that is finding it challenging to have our voice heard above a paid marketing campaign that is selectively omitting facts about this Demolition-expansion Plan. Our website represents one of the few places where our voice can be heard. No matter what you hear about the Save Our Library Group, our members support change when it is progressive and adds to the quality of life in Amherst. This Demolition/Expansion Plan is NOT that kind of change. The justification given for the need for an Expansion is based on padded user data for the Library's "service population." Further, the Plan was developed with virtually no community discussion about what kind of changes Amherst residents want in our public library. The stated goals used to justify the Expansion could be accomplished by a Renovation within the existing building footprint. SOL supports the goals of enhancing services, creating a Teen space, upgrading infrastructure, meeting accessibility needs, etc., but this Plan is too costly, wasteful, and ultimately, unnecessary. Unfortunately, what should be a grassroots conversation leading up to the VOTE at Spring Town Meeting, is being influenced by the PR/marketing firm that the Library hired (using Library funds from taxpayer dollars) to sell this Plan to Amherst residents. View the Library's $36,000 contract (12/15/16 - 6/30/17) with Financial Development Agency, Inc. (FDA), lead by Matt Blumenfeld. Click here to view the Marketing Contract.
A Daily Hampshire Gazette article, on March 22, 2017, makes it clear that this firm's role goes well beyond fundraising including comments about those who oppose the Plan that takes vitriol to a new level. Click here to view the Gazette article. For reasons that are unclear, the local news coverage continues to be heavily skewed toward those supporting this Plan, including allowing unsupported and inflammatory charges to be made in print about our members' motives, but failing to publish letters refuting those charges. Click here to read two unpublished Letters to the Editor.
SOL LOVES THE JONES AND SUPPORTS JONES LIBRARY STAFF
Our opposition to the Demolition/Expansion Plan is NOT a comment on the quality of the Jones Library or the amazingly commendable service provided to the community by the dedicated Jones Library staff. Our members love the Jones Library and deeply appreciate the hard work of all its staff members. In fact, a few years ago, four active SOL members were among those who successfully fought to get paid sick leave benefits for the half of the Library staff who work part time and previously had no benefits. What members of SOL oppose is the "flagship" philosophy of a "newer and bigger is better" Demolition/Expansion Plan that diminishes the historical importance of the Jones Library and the already excellent services it provides for all patrons. We represent the loyal opposition.
In the 1990s expansion of the Jones Library, Trustees stayed true to the original vision for the Library by NOT following the latest fad in library design. Unfortunately, the current Library Director's and Trustees' Demolition/Expansion Plan with its glass and steel addition is just this kind of a wasteful, costly design FAD.
Historic Main Entrance to the Jones Library
The Children's Room
The Proposed Children's Room
WHAT IS THE THREAT?
The Demolition/Expansion Plan:
♦ Is a DONE DEAL in terms of public input on this design. There is confusion on this point because of misinformation from the Marketing campaign. The warrant coming up for a VOTE at Town Meeting calls this a PRELIMINARY DESIGN." However, no matter what you hear, THERE WILL ONLY BE MINOR FINISHING CHANGES POSSIBLE WITH THIS PLAN. This is because the deadline for submitting a design for a State grant came earlier than Town Meeting, so the Library HAS ALREADY SUBMITTED THE DESIGN as part of the application process, so ANY PUBLIC INPUT TOOK PLACE LAST YEAR! Town Meeting is being asked to vote retroactively on a design that has ALREADY BEEN SUBMITTED, so if the grant is awarded, it will allow only minor changes to finishing details of the design. This is why SOL is trying to make it clear that this design is a done deal and the time for public input HAS PASSED. Claims to the contrary are marketing SPIN. The Plan alters many of the original building's historic rooms (with their fireplaces and Philippine mahogany paneling), and the expansion would be out-of-scale on the site and the exterior would be out of character in Amherst's historic district.
♦ Challenges Amherst's status as a "Green Community." Pursuing a "flagship" approach of "new and bigger is better" conflicts with repurposing and reusing that are cornerstones of green design and preservation. The unnecessary and wasteful demolition of 40% of the Jones Library building, the loss of mature trees in the Kinsey Memorial Garden on the Library grounds, and the lack of green energy features are counter to green, sustainable design. The Trustees' project will not qualify for even the lowest category of LEED designation. Environmentally speaking, this Plan moves Amherst in the wrong direction. Read more at Amherst as a Green Community.
♦ Costs $49 million in total, which includes $13.4 million in interest over 25 years. These interest costs are omitted in the Trustees' public cost estimates. Even subtracting a potential State construction grant of $13.7 million and $6 million from potential gifts and other funding sources, this would still saddle Amherst taxpayers with $29.4 million (nearly twice the Trustees' quoted $16 million cost).
♦ Bases the need for an Expansion on padded user data. Lists the Library's "service population" as 51,000, with only 19,000 Library cardholders. The 51,000 figure includes thousands of resident college students who use their campus libraries and do not use the Jones Library.
♦ Is a problematic design, providing only ONE Elevator for accessibility (with stairs as a barrier just outside the elevator); creates inappropriate space for Teens (vauted ceilings will carry noise throughout the Library); ESL (provides unnecessary space at tables for 4 chairs when 2-chair, one-on-one tutoring is optimal) and for Special Collections (disperses the collectionin to several areas throughout the Library, making it difficult to staff to monitor its valuable contents). Provides no increase in book, DVD, or other collections despite expanded space.
♦ Installs an industrial-style, sawtooth roof and a clear glass and steel "canopy" over the iconic Main Entrance that will be out of character with the Library and its neighbors, the Amherst History Museum and National Bank Building, both also on the State Register of Historic Places, as well as out of character with the rest of Amherst's historic district.
Architect's Drawing of the Industrial-Style Sawtooth Roof on Massive Addition
This Plan wastefully demolishes the brick 1990s Addition paid off in 2010
♦ Demolishes the entire 1993 brick addition that aesthetically blends with its historic neighbors and replaces it with a massive glass and steel addition.
Architect's drawing of west side/rear view of massive addition
♦ Constructs a Massive Addition that overwhelms the site, is out of proportion with the surrounding historic buildings and out of character in Amherst's historic district.
Current footprint (with red property line) of Jones Library in relation to neighbors
Proposed Expansion dwarfing neighbors and eliminating downtown green space
♦ Destroys the Kinsey Memorial Garden. No matter what you hear, the mature tree canopy of this lovely Garden would not survive the massive demolition. The Kinsey Memorial Garden would be replaced by terraced plantings and generic landscaping. The Garden was a generous gift to the Jones Library in 1999 in memory of UMass Professor David Chapin Kinsey. A Town gem, the Garden was installed by a community effort of more than 60 volunteers. The Garden's mature trees, ornamental shrubs, diverse plantings, stone walls, walkways and benches, which provide a rare contemplative space in the heart of downtown Amherst would be lost. Marketing SPIN suggests that the Kinsey Memorial Garden would remain, but even a cursory glance at the scale of the proposed addition on the site, makes it clear this would not be possible. The Plan would also reduce the aesthetic sweep of green space between the Jones Library and its neighbor, the Amherst History Museum (located in the fragile Strong House next door), down to a narrow strip of terraced planting, sacrificing the elegant connection between these two historic buildings.
Kinsey Garden oasis next to Amherst History Museum (Photo Source: The Daily Hampshire Gazette)
♦ Demolishes the Woodbury Room (large downstairs meeting room), renovated in 2012 at a cost of more than $175,000 from Professor and Mrs. Woodbury's generous bequest of nearly $750,000, the largest donation in dollar terms that the Library had ever received. In its place, The Plan would leave an (unexplained) exterior concrete SLAB.
♦ Increases Real Estate Taxes by more than 2½%, which may require a vote on a Tax Override. Town Meeting would need a 2/3 majority vote to approve the borrowing. An alternative approach, a Renovation without an expansion is a cost effective way to enhance services and help keep Amherst affordable for everyone.
LARGER QUESTIONS AMHERST RESIDENTS NEED TO ASK
We, Amherst Residents, must ask who and what is motivating this "Flagship, bigger is better" philosophy and ask ourselves what kind of public library we want, need and can afford. In the end, taxpayer paid projects like the Demolition/Expansion Plan and how our Town negotiates change to our historic district with developers, will determine whether our small historic college town will retain some of its charm or whether it will move in the direction of resembling a generic suburban office park. ALL residents need to have a VOICE in those decisions, not just the developers, the PR/Marketing firm and those who stand to gain financially from any changes going forward.
A CALL TO ACTION: WHAT YOU CAN DO
If you love and value what is unique about the Jones Library and share a vision for preserving this Amherst treasure, please oppose the Trustees' Demolition/Expansion Plan, by doing the following:
♦ Contact ALL Town Meeting Representatives and ask them to VOTE AGAINST the Library Building Project at Town Meeting, which begins on April 26th. Help others understand that while the warrant will ask Town Meeting members for a vote to allow Library Trustees to apply for and accept a State grant on a "Preliminary Design," this grant application has ALREADY been submitted, the design is a DONE DEAL and time for public input is over . To contact your Town Meeting member, go to the Town website, click on the link to the Town Meeting page (www.amherstma.gov/tm) and select the "Contacting Town Meeting Members" link in the upper left-hand menu.
♦ Join our GRASSROOTS effort to Preserve/Renovate the historic Jones Library!
If you are concerned about the lack of real public input, misinformation on the cost of the expansion, NO design or estimate for an architect-designed Renovation vs the false choice of a Repair List, as well as the loss of the Kinsey Memorial Garden, join us.
If you agree, after reading information on this website that the discussion about this Plan has been skewed by a highly-marketed sales pitch orchestrated by the PR/Marketing firm hired by the Library (using Library funds from at taxpayer dollars), please join us.
If you want to STOP this costly, wasteful, unnecessary Demolition/Expansion and support a sustainable design for the historic Jones Library, join us.
♦ Talk to friends, neighbors and fellow Jones Library patrons and tell them about this website. Let them know what is at stake with the Trustees' Demolition/Expansion Plan: the permanent damage of Amherst's historic treasure, the Jones Library, as well as the loss of the Kinsey Memorial Garden. Encourage your friends to call their Town Meeting members to ask them to vote against the expansion Plan.
♦ Submit a Letter to the Editor (300 word limit) at: http://www.gazettenet.com/Opinion/Submit-a-Letter