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. This Demolition-Expansion, which will come before spring Town Meeting for a vote on Warrant Article 23, 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 in reality, a Demolition-Expansion 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 to expand the building's footprint. This Demolition-Expansion would be 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 soon 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 PR-Marketing firm (hired at taxpayer expense) that is using considerable money and influence to sell this Demolition-Expansion to Amherst taxpayers. 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 change that adds to the quality of life in Amherst. This Demolition-Expansion 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," which includes nearly 20,000 resident college students who use college libraries, NOT the Jones Library. Further, the expansion was designed with virtually no community discussion about what kind of changes Amherst residents want in our public library. The goal of enhancing services used to justify the expansion could be accomplished by an architect-designed 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 expansion is too costly/extravagant, 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 campaign. 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 PR/Marketing firm's role goes well beyond fundraising. 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 same 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 that diminishes the historical importance of the Jones Library. We support a renovation, but oppose this Plan that demolishes nearly half the building to accomplish this goal. We believe the Jones Library provides excellent services for patrons and is ALREADY the center of our community life. Save Our Library represents the LOYAL OPPOSITION.
In the 1990s expansion of the Jones Library, Trustees stayed true to the original vision of a home-like Library by NOT following the latest fad in library design. Unfortunately, the current Library Director and Trustees' Demolition-Expansion 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 would be:
♦ A DONE DEAL in terms of public input. There is confusion on this point because of misinformation from the Marketing firm hired to sell this expansion to Amherst residents. Warrant Article 23 coming up for a VOTE at spring Town Meeting calls this a "PRELIMINARY DESIGN." However, no matter what you hear, ONLY MINOR CHANGES TO FINISHING DETAILS (paint, carpeting, furniture) would be possible. 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. ANY PUBLIC INPUT TOOK PLACE LAST YEAR. Town Meeting members will be voting after the fact on a design that has ALREADY BEEN SUBMITTED. There is nothing "preliminary" about Article 23 and the time for public input HAS PASSED. Claims to the contrary are Marketing SPIN. The Demoliton-Expansion would alter many of the original building's historic rooms, demolish the entire brick 1990s Addition, demolish the Woodbury Room (renovated in 2012 at a cost of $175,000) and destroy the Kinsey Memorial Garden. The proposed expansion would be out-of-scale on the site (see aerial views below) and out of character in Amherst's historic district.
♦ COUNTER to 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 sustainability. The UNNECESSARY and wasteful demolition of 40% of the Jones Library building, including the entire 1990s Addition would create more than 1,660+ TONS (or 207+ dumpster loads) of demolition debris. The loss of mature trees in the Kinsey Memorial Garden on the Library grounds, and the lack of green energy features makes the Demolition-Expansion UN-GREEN and UNSUSTAINABLE. The Trustees' Plan will not qualify for even the lowest level of LEED certification and provides no solar panels. Amherst has achieved Green Community status, but environmentally speaking, this Plan moves Amherst in the wrong direction. Read more at Amherst as a Green Community.
♦ EXTRAVAGANT at a cost of $49 million in total. This includes $13.4 million in interest over 25 years, which is factored into payments on the debt. These interest costs are left out of all the Trustees' cost estimates. Even subtracting a potential State construction grant of $13.7 million and $6 million from potential gifts and other funding sources, this Demolition-Expansion would still saddle Amherst taxpayers with $29.4 million in payments (nearly twice the Trustees' publicly quoted $16 million).
♦ A PROBLEMATIC DESIGN. Some problem highlights:
1) $400,000 Book-Sorting Machine would be located in a Historic Room by the FRONT entrance, despite noise created by the machine and the fact that there would be no increase in books for the Library.
2) Only ONE Elevator with stairs on the 2nd floor that would continue to be a barrier to patrons with accessiblity issues.
3) Teen space would be inappropriately located in an area with vaulted ceilings that would carry noise throughout the Library.
4) Unnecessary square footage. For example, ESL areas would provide space at tables for 4 chairs when 2-chair, one-on-one tutoring is optimal. Unnecessary square footage is added throughout the Library.
5) Special Collections would be dispersed to several areas on the basement level, making it extremely difficult for staff to monitor its valuable contents. No new staff would be hired.
6) Burnett Gallery would be relocated to a windowless basement level allowing no natural light into the art gallery.
7) No increase in book, DVD, or other collections despite extravagantly expanded space.
8) The Kinsey Memorial Garden would be lost to demolition and building encroachment, so that window views would be of terraced plantings backing up to the CVS parking lot dumpsters.
♦ A FALSE CHOICE. At Spring Town Meeting, when Article 23 comes before Town Meeting members for a vote, Trustees will present an estimate on a deferred maintenance repair list as the ONLY ALTERNATIVE to the demolition-expansion. An architect-designed RENOVATION within the existing footprint is the REAL ALTERNATIVE. SOL members repeatedly requested a cost estimate for a renovation within the existing footprint during Trustee Board meetings over the last several years, but this request was ignored.
Further, BASIC MAINTENANCE of the Jones has been NEGLECTED. For example, the door trim around the historic main entrance to the Jones Library has been allowed to seriously deteriorate. Repair would require only a few days of labor to scrap peeling paint, prime, add a fresh coat of paint, and add a protective coat of sealer to the doorway threshold that has deteriorated to BARE WOOD. This basic maintenance is necessary to protect the entryway from the elements and to provide a gracious welcome to patrons. As the vote on the Demolition-Expansion nears, a question worth asking is why the Trustees have failed to require BASIC MAINTENANCE be done on the Library's Historic Main Entrance.
Why has basic maintenance been neglected on the Historic Main Entrance?
♦ JUSTIFIED ONLY by padded Library user data. The Jones Library's "service population" is listed as 51,000, though the Library only has 19,000 Library card holders. The 51,000 figure is padded with nearly 20,000 resident college students who use their campus libraries and do not use the Jones Library.
♦ OUT OF CHARACTER with the historic Library and its historic neighbors. The design uses an industrial-style, sawtooth roof and would install a clear glass and steel "canopy" over the iconic Main Entrance. These design features would be out of character with the Amherst History Museum and National Bank Building, both also on the State Register of Historic Places, as well as with the rest of Amherst's historic district.
Architect's Drawing of the Industrial-Style Sawtooth Roof on Massive Addition
This Plan would wastefully demolish the brick 1990s Addition paid off in 2010
♦ WASTEFUL in demolishing the entire well-built 1993 brick addition whose gambrel roof aesthetically blends with the roofline of its historic neighbors (see Amherst History Museum in background).
Architect's drawing of west side/rear view of massive addition
♦ OUT-OF-SCALE on the site with its massive addition dwarfing the surrounding historic buildings. See photos below.
Current footprint (with red property line) of Jones Library in relation to neighbors
Expansion would dwarf historic neighbors and destroy The Kinsey Memorial Garden
♦ THE END OF the Kinsey Memorial Garden. No matter what you hear, the mature trees in this lovely Garden (gifted to the Jones Library in 1999) would not survive the massive demolition and would be replaced by terraced plantings and generic landscaping. The Kinsey Memorial Garden was a generous gift from Carol Pope to the Jones Library dedicated in memory of her late husband, 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, providing a rare contemplative space in the heart of downtown Amherst, would be LOST to the Demolition-Expansion. Marketing SPIN states that the Kinsey Memorial Garden would remain, but even a cursory glance at the scale of the proposed demolition, 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), down to a narrow strip of terraced planting, sacrificing the elegant connection between these two historic buildings.
Further, in 2014, when the plan for the Demolition-Expansion was being developed, Carol Pope, benefactor, creator and designer of the Kinsey Memorial Garden, was asked to no longer oversee the Garden's care. Since that time, the Kinsey Garden has suffered serious NEGLECT. Most recently the Garden's neglect has been evident in the failure to cut down previous year's growth of ornamental grasses early enough to avoid serious damage to rising new growth; to properly prune, leaving unsightly, unhealthy branch stubs; to weed or remove leaves; and to appropriately time mulching, so that the application of mulch smothered a variety of ground covers that unified the Garden landscape. For over 15 years, Ms. Pope provided ongoing oversight of the Garden, offering pro-bono design services and annual contributions of plantings worth thousands of dollars as well using her own funds to add stone walkways, walls and benches to the Kinsey Garden. Carol also proposed that she would form a professional horticultural committee that would donate their time to oversee the Garden, supervise the maintenance, and do much of the more demanding work to provide the best possible care of this botanically sophisticated garden.
In contrast, the Demolition-Expansion plan proposes that a "Garden Committee" would provide ongoing maintenance of the terraced plantings to be carried out by non-professional volunteers, who would be supervised by Library staff with little or no gardening experience.
Kinsey Garden oasis next to Amherst History Museum (Photo Source: The Daily Hampshire Gazette)
♦ DISRESPECTFUL OF DONORS. DONORS BEWARE. Gifts and investments made to the Library in recent years by donors and Town residents hoping to make a lasting contribution to their community, have been treated cavalierly in this Demolition-Expansion Plan.
1) Professor and Mrs. Woodbury made the largest donation in the Library's history, nearly $750,000. In 2012, Jones Trustees used $175,000 of the Woodbury funds to renovate and upgrade technology in the large downstairs meeting room, naming it the Woodbury Room in the donors' honor. The demolition-expansion would demolish the Woodbury Room and in its place leave a mysterious concrete SLAB. The Woodburys have no living heirs, so there is no one to protest how those funds would be WASTED.
2) In 1999, Carol Pope made a gift of the Kinsey Memorial Garden to the Jones Library by using donations made in honor of her late husband and adding thousands of dollars of her own funds over the years to enhance the Garden with diverse plantings, stone walkways, stone walls and stone benches. Under the Trustees' Demolition-Expansion the Kinsey Memorial Garden would be destroyed. No matter what you hear as Marketing SPIN, the mature trees in the Garden would not survive the extensive demolition and building encroachment. The Kinsey Memorial Garden would be replaced by terraced plantings backing up to the CVS parking lot.
3) The brick 1990s Addition, which was just paid off with taxpayer funds in 2010, would also be totally demolished under this Plan. The brick 1990s Addition was well-built (except for the leaking Atruim, which needs to be replaced).
4) In the early 1990s, a painting valued at $2 million donated to the Library was sold to help fund the 1990s expansion that would be destroyed less than 25 years later.
The proposed Demoltion-Expansion represents the latest wasteful disregard for the value of past donor contributions to the Jones Library. This pattern of disregard should make any potential donor be wary indeed.
♦ EXPENSIVE to Amherst taxpayers, increasing Real Estate Taxes by more than 2½%. This would require a Town-wide vote on a Tax Override. Town Meeting would also need a 2/3 majority vote to approve the borrowing. In contrast, an Alternative Approach, a Renovation within the existing building footprint, would be a cost effective way to upgrade the Library, enhance services and accessibility 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 will set the tone for how our Town negotiates with developers on changes to our historic district. What is decided at this Spring Town Meeting, will determine whether our small historic college town will retain some of its charm or whether it will continue to move toward resembling a generic suburban office park. If we continue to allow developers to decide the future of our historic district, we will lose the historical character that makes Amherst unique. If this Library Building Project is approved, patrons would walk into the Jones Library and not be able to tell if they were in Holyoke, Chicopee, Worcester or any other library in the country that has followed a similar fad in design. ALL residents need to know what is at stake with this proposed project and to have a VOICE in the decision, not just the developers, the PR/Marketing firm and those who stand to gain 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 Renovating this Amherst treasure with out demolishing 40% of the building, please oppose the Trustees' Demolition-Expansion, by doing the following:
♦ Contact Town Meeting Representatives and ask them to VOTE AGAINST Warrant Article 23 at spring Town Meeting, which begins on April 26th. Even though Warrant 23 asks Town Meeting members for a vote to allow Library Trustees to apply for and accept a State grant on a "Preliminary Design," explain that this grant application has ALREADY been submitted, the design is a DONE DEAL and the time for public input is over. To contact your Town Meeting member, beginning on April 10th, 2017, 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 within the footprint vs the false choice of a Repair List, as well as the loss of the Kinsey Memorial Garden, please 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 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 representatives to ask them to vote against Warrant Article 23.
♦ Submit a Letter to the Editor (300 word limit) at: http://www.gazettenet.com/Opinion/Submit-a-Letter