WHY WE OPPOSE THE DEMOLITION-EXPANSION PLAN
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 staff. Our members love the Jones Library and deeply appreciate the hard work of all its staff members. We represent the loyal opposition.
The Demolition-Expansion Plan put forth by the current Library Director and Jones Library Trustees was ill-conceived from the very beginning. No matter what you've heard, public input into this Plan was allowed only after the design was essentially complete. Public comment at two "Public Information Sessions" held in July and August 2016, were restricted to comments on the architect's presentation during a 30 minute public comment period at the end of the the meeting. Additional comments were garnered from patron comments posted on stickies on the Library's bulletin board.
Neither of these two avenues for public input provided an opportunity for indepth community discussion worthy of a multi-million dollar expansion plan with so much at stake for the town of Amherst.
The Role of Public Relations and Marketing
There are hidden players shaping the discussion behind the scenes of this multi-million dollar Demolition/Expansion Plan. The Jones Trustees have hired a PR/Marketing firm (using Library funds from taxpayer dollars) to sell this Plan to Amherst residents. Click here to view the Marketing Contract.This begs the question of why paid marketing would be needed if the Plan was so obviously good for the Town. It also begs the question of why the PR firm would have needed to start a "citizen's petition" drive if there truly was a ground swell of support for this Plan. The PR/Marketing firm recently switched to an online petition drive with is notoriously unreliable as signatures and duplications are difficult to verify. While there is nothing wrong with PR firms doing what they are hired to do, when their power is used to masquerade as resident voices, or to obscure or dismiss real resident voices, it creates an uneven playing field. Click here to read the latest Gazette article. See how far the PR/Marketing firm is willing to go to skew the playing field.
Also, for reasons that are unclear, the local news coverage has been skewed toward those supporting this Plan, including allowing unsupported and inflammatory charges to be made about the SOL group and our members' motives and not publishing letters refuting those inflammatory charges. Click here to view two of these unpublished letters.
The Role of Developers and Business Interests
There is no question that there are some in Town who want to radically transform downtown Amherst, to resemble more of a suburban office park. This is evident in the 5-story buildings springing up around Town that do not reflect the nature of Amherst as a small historic college town. This trend toward modern 5-story buildings may be part of an attempt to increase the economic vitality of the Town, however, it comes at the cost of what brings tourists to our Town, namely, Amherst's unique historic charm.
Amherst's Historic District Buildings
Examples of Five-Story Buildings Springing Up in Downtown Amherst
Openly acknowledging the role of these hidden players may serve to raise awareness about the way residents' participation is actively being discouraged in opposing the Plan for the historic Jones Library. It may also serve to inspire deeper reflection on how much of Amherst's historic character residents want to be carried forward in time by its Library as well as in the downtown historic district itself.
HIDDEN FACTS - HIDDEN FIGURES
Below we illuminate some of the hidden facts and figures behind the promotion of the Trustees' Demolition-Expansion Plan.
♦ What's in a Name: The Jones Library Director and Trustees refer to their plan as a "building project" or "renovation" designed to create a "flagship" library.
Hidden Fact: SOL uses the name, Demolition-Expansion Plan to reflect the unspoken fact that the Trustees' plan would demolish 40% of the Jones Library for the e-x-p-a-n-s-i-o-n. The justification given for the expansion is the desire to house more and more services under one roof. This "flagship" approach of "newer and bigger is better" ignores that the historic Jones Library already provides excellent services for Amherst residents and patrons from surrounding towns, all of which have their own public libraries. The Jones Library needs an architect-designed Renovation. NOT a demolition-expansion that destroys what is working well, namely the 1990s addition, or a deferred maintenance Repair List. It needs architects with a directive to update its infrastructure and make the building fully accessible within the existing footprint using a professional library space planner to reconfigure its interior space. With this approach, 40% of the Jones Library would NOT need to be demolished for an unnecessary expansion. The historic Jones Library is already Amherst's flagship library.
♦ Total Cost: Publicly quoted estimates of the Total Cost of the Demolition-Expansion Plan are $35.6 million with the latest cost to the Town quoted as "$16 million."
Hidden Fact: The true Total Cost of The Plan is $49 million. The Trustees' Total Cost estimate of $35.6 million does not include interest on the debt, estimated at $13.4 million (which includes $9.2 million in interest on the $16 million AND $4.2 million in interest on a construction loan). A construction loan would be needed to cover costs all funds from a State grant is not given up-front, so the Town would need a loan (with interest) to cover costs while waiting to be reimbursed by the State. Therefore, the "$16 million" figure quoted by the Trustees omits these two sources of interest AND is only relevant if a state grant is awarded and if the Library receives $6 million in funds from gifts and other sources. That's a lot of ifs and a lot of interest. BOTTOM LINE: Of this $49 million total cost, this Plan would saddle Amherst taxpayers with payments of at least $29.4 million, nearly twice the Trustees' $16 million figure.
It was recently stated in an Amherst Bulletin Guest Column, that including interest in the total cost of this Plan, only serves to frighten and is not relevant to a financial decision. As evidence, the writer noted that when buying a house, interest is not added to the purchase price. However, when buying a house, a buyer understands that the monthly payment is what determines whether they can afford a particular house or not. And a monthly payment always includes interest. The real cost of this wasteful, unnecessary demolition-expansion is $29.4 million; not a figure that Amherst can afford to disregard.
Further, the exceedingly high cost of the proposed Jones Library expansion to 65,000 sq ft is in sharp contrast to the 40,000 sq ft Holyoke Library project, completed just 3½ years ago, for a total cost of $14.5 million, compared with the Trustees' quoted $35.6 million total cost for the Jones. Additionally, the Holyoke Library achieved LEED Silver Certification, while the proposed Plan for the Jones will not qualify for even the lowest level of LEED certification.
♦ Repair vs Demolition-Expansion: Trustees offer a Repair List of deferred maintenance items as the ONLY alternative to the Demolition-Expansion Plan.
Hidden Fact: This is a FALSE CHOICE. An architect-designed RENOVATION within the existing footprint is the REAL ALTERNATIVE to this massive Demolition/Expansion Plan. In 2016, SOL members repeatedly requested a cost estimate for a renovation within the existing footprint. However, at Spring Town Meeting, Trustees will present only an estimate on a piecemeal deferred maintenance repair list as the only alternative. Amherst residents deserve an estimate for a Renovation (not just a Repair List) within the existing footprint, as a real alternative to this wasteful demolition-expansion.
Further, the door trim around the entryway to the Jones Library has been allowed to seriously deteriorate. A few days of labor to scrap peeling paint, prime and add fresh paint and add a protective coat of sealer to the doorway threshold that is down to BARE WOOD, would protect the entryway from the elements. A question worth asking is why current Trustees have failed to perform this BASIC LEVEL of MAINTENANCE to the Library's historic entrance.
The Library's Front Entryway has been seriously neglected.
♦ Preliminary Design vs Done Deal: Trustees and the Library Director continue to refer to the Plan as a "preliminary design" and a recent Bulletin Guest Column stated there will be "plenty of opportunity to examine the project in great detail..."
Hidden Fact: This IS "the design." The Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners (MBLC) requires an Annual Town Meeting vote on Article 23 this Spring on whether to approve the "project's design," and whether to approve applying for, accepting, and expending a State grant. The square footage for each part of the Demolition-Expansion's design is already set in what the Trustees submitted with their grant application. So the square footage for each part of the Library is set. At this late stage, there is no "preliminary design." Going forward, only minor changes to finishing details would be allowed. Despite what was implied in a recent Amherst Bulletin Guest Column, it would NOT be risk-free for Town Meeting to vote for this Plan, as it is NOT preliminary and no significant changes could be made going forward. This Plan is a done deal.
♦ Seeking Donors: The Library Trustees are currently seeking $2.9 million in gifts from donors.
Hidden Fact: 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 their honor. Under this Plan, the Woodbury Room would be demolished and in its place would be a 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 using donations made in honor of her late husband and adding thousands of dollars of her own funds to enhance the Garden over the years with diverse plantings, stone walkways, stone walls and stone benches. Under the Trustees' Plan 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 in this expansion Plan. The Kinsey Memorial Garden would be replaced by terraced plantings and generic landscaping.
3) The brick 1990s Addition, which was just paid off with taxpayer funds in 2010, would also be totally demolished under this Plan. The 1990s Addition was well-built (except for the leaking Atruim, which needs to be replaced), and aesthetically blends with its historic neighbors.
4) In the early 1990s, a painting donated to the Library that was valued at $2 million was sold to finance the 1993 expansion of the Library. The 1993 addition, less than 25 years old, paid off in 2010, is slated for demolition.
The proposed Demoltion-Expansion Plan 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 wary.
♦ State Grant: In an Amherst Bulletin Guest Column on 3/2/17, the Jones Trustee President, referring to a possible award of a construction grant from the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners (MBLC), stated: "such an award would represent almost 40% of the cost of the project."
Hidden Fact: This almost 40% figure omits the estimated interest payments of $13.9 million. The total cost of the project, $29 million in payments, also does not include the cost of protecting the Library's historic neighbor, the Amherst Historical Society Museum (located in the fragile Strong House) and its fragile collections, from damage due to inevitable demolition and construction vibrations.
♦ Historic Preservation: Trustees and the Library Director repeatedly state they are dedicated to preserving the historic aspects of the Jones Library. The Trustee President is quoted as stating they have "an important opportunity to improve our library and preserve the founders' vision of the Jones Library."
Hidden Fact: In the Plan, historic preservation has been an afterthought. The only statement that any Library official gave to the architects about historic preservation is from the Jones Library Director, in an email of June 30, 2016, instructing the architects: "In general, we are concerned about trying too hard to save the original rooms in the original building." In other words, preserving the original rooms was not a priority.
The Plan evolved with no focus on preserving the Library's historic features such as the walnut staircase in the main entrance hallway. Half of the staircase was added back into the Plan only after SOL members objected strongly at Trustee Board meetings to the wholesale destruction of this historic feature. It is of note that as of early March 2017, Library Trustees have not provided the required documentation about their plans for demolition of the 1993 addition and "selective demolition" was the term used to describe the plan for the original 1928 building to the Massachusetts Historical Commission (MHC). Unfortunately, it's too late in this grant cycle for the Library to provide the demolition data that the MHC requires. Further, the Trustees' grant application now uses the term "renovation" of the original 1928 building rather than "selective demolition" though the Plan has scarcely changed. The "D" word, demolition, is never mentioned in public.
♦ Environmental Impact: The Trustees' Plan does not address the environmental impact of the Expansion, beyond acknowledging that their Plan does not qualify for any level of LEED certification.
Hidden Fact: The Plan disregards the environmental impact of demolishing 40% of the Library building. Referring to the Max Page quote cited on our "Preservation and The Plan" page, the demolition of 40% of the building itself will have an impact on air quality, and demolition in general is a contributing factor to climate change. The environmental impact of losing the mature trees and the diverse plantings in the Kinsey Memorial Garden is equally disregarded in the Plan. The Garden, which provides natural habitat would be lost. No matter what you hear, The Kinsey Memorial Garden would no longer exist under the Plan and would be replaced by terraced plantings dispersed around the Library grounds.
♦ Library Size Requirement: According to the Library Director, in the Building Program, July 2, 2015 (page 3) and in an Amherst Bulletin article, May 2016, a town with Amherst's "service population" requires a library of 74,000 square feet (SF).
Hidden Fact: There is NO square footage requirement based on population for public libraries in Massachusetts. For example, Holyoke, MA, with a population of 40,000, with no branch libraries, received an MBLC construction grant for demolition and expansion to a 40,000 SF Library.
♦ Service Population: The Library Director and Trustees justify the Expansion as NEEDED based on a "service population" of 51,000.
Hidden Fact: This 51,000 figure is padded by ignoring that Amherst has two well-used branch libraries and nearly 20,000 resident college students ALL have their own campus libraries and do not use the Jones. The Jones Library has only 19,000 library-card holders. Using the Library's circulation estimate of one-third of patrons being non-residents and a non-student, resident population of nearly 20,000, the true service population of the Jones is closer to 24,000 - less than half the 51,000 figure for which this Demolition-Expansion is designed.
♦ Building Design: In developing the "Building Program", Jones Library Trustee President has stated there were "23 dedicated public meetings" for input from Amherst residents.
Hidden Fact: The only two "Public Information Sessions," held in 2016, were presentations of the Plan by the staff and architects with the last 30 minutes allotted for public comments. At the second of these two meetings, comments were allowed only on the details being presented at THAT meeting. The remainder of these "public meetings" were either Trustee Board meetings or Subcommittee Meetings with a 5-10 minute public comment period at the beginning of the meeting. This provided no opportunity for comment or response after the meeting proceedings. In addition, at these meetings, microphones were not used and table configuration was such that half of the committee members sat with their backs toward the public, making discussions frequently inaudible. SOL members objected and at a recent meeting the tables were reconfigured so that members faced the public. Microphones are still rarely used. Amherst residents must be be able to hear and be heard in order to particpate in the democratic process.
♦ Enhancing Services: Comments on enhancing services and programs at the Jones Library imply that an expansion is fully justified.
Hidden Fact: ADA compliance, creating a Teen space, providing additional internet connections, enhancing English as a Second Language (ESL) and Special Collections DO NOT require an expansion. Indeed, in the current Demolition/Expansion Plan only one additional tutoring room is allotted for ESL. If additional space is needed to enhance programming, it could be found within the building's existing footprint by hiring a professional library space planner to reconfigure existing space, and through an in-spansion, such as an ADA compliant elevator making all floors accessible and/or restoring the second floor above the Adult Fiction Room (removed during the 1993s expansion).
♦ No System-Wide Plan: An Amherst Bulletin editorial on March 3, 2017, states that "consideration also should be given to the needs of the library branch in North Amherst, which does not have public restrooms and is not accesible to handicapped people." The Plan is based soley on increased services taking place at the Jones Library.
Hidden Fact: Other Town/Local agencies can and do provide some of these services, which DO NOT need to all be in one location. Too much centralizing of services creates problems with parking, traffic and accessibility. Dispersing services throughout the Town, including funding more hours at our branch libraries, would help provide neighborhood parity and would be more cost effective for taxpayers. Despite the shocking fact of having no accessible public restroom in the North Amherst branch library, The Plan does not address this disparity in services within our Library System.
Historic Preservation Restriction: The Trustees' grant application on page 67 states: "There is a Preservation Restriction on the exterior of the original building."
Hidden Fact: The Library received Community Preservation Act (CPA) funds in 2010 to repair the Library's slate roof. The CPA mandates that in exchange for receiving these funds, a restriction on the building must be signed and recorded in the Registry of Deeds. However, after more than 6 years, this Restriction has still not been signed or recorded. The Trustees failed to inform the architects about the missing restriction. The architects then proceeded to develop The Plan on the basis that there were no Historic Preservation Restrictions on the Jones Library building. The Plan, which includes a clear-glass canopy to be anchored into the stone at the main entrance, is one of the features most likely to be out of compliance with the Historic Preservation restriction. The failure to sign and record this Historic Preservation Restriction has left vulnerable the historic character of the Jones Library building.