Guest columnist George Ryan: Let’s not abandon ship

  • Patrons enter the Jones Library in Amherst on Friday, Oct. 29, 2021.

Wednesday, September 14, 2022

The recent news that the latest estimates for the Jones Library renovation and expansion have come in considerably higher than the initial cost estimate have led some to call for the project to be abandoned. In my view this would be a serious mistake.

First of all such a decision could well cost the town more money in the long term. The existing building would still be in need of immediate and expensive repairs. The estimated cost of a simple “repair job,” which was done prior to the referendum, showed it would cost as much or more than the town’s $15.8 million commitment to the restoration and renovation. And these costs are subject to same inflationary pressures. They are going up like everything else. If we abandon the project we won’t be saving any money and we will get none of the things that 65% of the voters voted for. How does that make sense?

Second, pulling the plug at this stage completely short circuits the fundraising campaign. The Jones Library Capital Campaign has already attained 93% of its initial fundraising goal during the silent phase (six months ahead of schedule) and is now prepared to begin its public phase. They are confident given the response to date and the overwhelming support of voters in the referendum that they can meet and in fact substantially exceed their goals.

They have also identified a number of new funding sources that were not part of the original fundraising campaign: a federal earmark of $1.1 million and an NEH Infrastructure Challenge grant of $1 million. Why not give the Jones Library Capital Campaign Committee a chance to make good on their promise? Why stop a major fundraising effort just as it is about to hit its stride?

Third, there is an important role here for our political representatives at the state level. Fourteen other towns and cities in the commonwealth are facing the same extraordinary inflationary pressures to their Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners library projects. There are realistic state funding sources that can be tapped which could assist all these communities in realizing their goal of a 21st century library.

Both state Rep. Mindy Domb and state Sen. Jo Comerford are aware of the situation and are planning in collaboration with their colleagues to explore possible State funding sources. We need to give them a chance to do their jobs.

And finally, the call to abandon the project at this stage is frankly an insult to the 65% of Amherst voters who gave their approval to the project as initially conceived. A sudden abandonment of the project without pursuing all reasonable avenues for additional funding strikes me as deeply undemocratic.

If come next July the fundraising effort has come up short and the state is unwilling or unable to offer any help, then a very difficult and painful decision will have to be made. I for one would be deeply and bitterly disappointed. But at least on this point I am in agreement with those who are already calling for us to abandon ship: If the funding is not there, then the project cannot go forward. But we are not at that point.

The sudden calls to abandon the project at this stage are premature and frankly more than a little suspect, given that many come from the same voices who did not support the project in the first place.

Let’s not be hasty. Let’s let people do their jobs. And let’s continue to work together toward a goal that a sizable majority of residents have long wanted — a renovated and expanded library that will meet the needs of all the members of our community well into the 21st century.

George Ryan lives in Amherst.