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Terry S. Johnson: Amherst library project must start over


Wednesday, May 24, 2017
Library project must start over

The editorial, “Consensus needed on library project” (May 19), speaks for many of us. Based on state grant guidelines, however, the only consensus possible now on this $35.6 million project is apparently for interior and exterior finishes.

Town Meeting’s recent vote established three parameters: (1) the site; (2) the 65,000-square-foot total size (after demolishing 19,000 square feet of the entire 1993 addition plus parts of the 1928 original structure); and (3) the square footage for each program. LEED certification, a “green” building and a second elevator are not feasible with this design and budget.

Consensus could have been reached during the planning phase. Sadly, the community was excluded at almost every critical step.

The trustees themselves deemed their 2015 library survey about usage as “unrepresentative” because two-thirds of respondents had master’s degrees. The trustees conducted no other surveys.

The trustees’ handpicked Feasibility Committee allowed no public comment at 80 percent of its meetings. Their handpicked Design Committee allowed public comment for some five minutes at the start of each meeting. Most of these meetings were during the day, and thus inconvenient for many who work.

At each of the two evening “public information sessions” last summer, trustees allowed the public to ask questions and comment (30 minutes at most), but only about the 65,000-square-foot design on which trustees had already decided.

It is fair to say that most residents want the Jones to be renovated with no demolition, and the branches enlarged with their hours increased.

However, the trustees and director have ignored calls in their own yearly library budget statements and long-range plans for improvements at both branches as well as at the Jones.

If the trustees receive a provisional grant in July, fall Town Meeting needs to reject it. We must start over and see what our whole community wants, needs and, crucially, can afford for our three-library system.

As trustee President Austin Sarat has correctly stated, “It’s about what all the voices want.”

Terry S. Johnson

Amherst

The writer is a retired Amherst teacher and a member of the Save Our Library group.