Guest columnist Elissa Rubinstein: If moving forward with Jones project fiscally responsible?

  • An artist’s conception shows a renovated and expanded Jones Library as seen from next to the Amherst History Museum. contributed

Wednesday, September 14, 2022

The lead headline in the Aug. 31 Gazette announced, “Jones capital campaign rakes in money.” This announcement should engender renewed confidence in the Jones trustees 5-1 vote to use their $8-plus million endowment to close the gap in ballooning construction costs.

However, as I began to add up the figures quoted in the article, my heart sank. The total project cost was estimated at $36.3 million; it is now estimated at $43 million to $50 million. This is still an estimate, not a fixed cost. How does the money that is being “raked in” make up the difference? Let’s look more closely at the amounts, just based on this article:

■$1.3 million is pledged from institutions.

■$1.79 million is pledged from individuals — not money in hand, but promises of funds.

■$50,000 for English as a second language design costs, a function that does not need to happen in the library but could be done at the Wildwood School or Middle School location once the new elementary school is built.

■$1 million from town Community Preservation Act funds.

■$200,000 from Mass Cultural Facilities Fund.

■$46,000 from Beveridge Foundation for the Special Collections costs.

■$1.6 million from the Massachusetts historic tax fund (only after completion of project).

■$1.1 million earmarked in House budget (not passed at this time).

■An undetermined amount from an appeal to the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners (not guaranteed).

Right now most of these above funds are not solid figures that can be accessed if the project is given the go-head in the upcoming vote by town officials. But, for argument’s sake, let’s say all this money came in, including the entire fund-raising goal of $6.6 million. What would the total be? $9.946 million. Let’s be wildly optimistic and add another $1 million from the appeal.

Now we’re at $10 million being “raked in” to plug the ever-increasing gap in proposed costs. Even if the trustees spent the entire Jones endowment, we are at less than 50% of funding for the project if it comes in at $43 million.

There is still a huge shortfall, even with the grant from the Massachusetts Library Commission.

Is it fiscally responsible for our town officials to commit an uncertain amount of additional town money to the Jones when we have three other major capital expenses on the horizon?

Personally, on an emotional level, I would like the Jones to be able to expand to serve our community and renovate all that needs to be done. But looking at the hard facts, it does not seem like a logical decision.

Please consider the coming vote very carefully in light of these facts.

Elissa Rubinstein lives in Amherst.