Guest columnist Eric Cochrane: Many reasons to vote ‘Yes’ on Jones expansion

Thursday, October 14, 2021

One of the best and most consequential creations within modern society, alongside free vaccines as well as public transportation, is the foundation of the modern library system.

Libraries are crucial because they provide free educational resources for everyone, a safe haven for the houseless and other marginalized communities, and are a boon to economies and public health.

Like all foundations of society, however, libraries need the necessary tools to update their space and services when they outgrow current spaces, through means including expanding accessibility and becoming more climate resilient.

This is why the Amherst Town Council voted 10-2, a clear mandate, to expand and renovate the Jones Library. That is why it is so disheartening to see people like Vincent O’Connor, who is running for at-large Town Council, lead a group of people to try and stop the project from happening, at a time when such changes are so crucial to Amherst.

Growing up in Amherst, the Jones always provided a pivotal sense of community, inspiring my lifelong love of reading and knowledge, ranging from picture books to science books, all for free. From personal experience, the Jones also provides a strong sense of community for local residents from abroad. I have volunteered as an ESL tutor in the past, and through this and the Conversation Circles program, seen how such services provide a space for communities who might not otherwise have such support.

This makes the project a social justice issue, as it needs a larger space for these programs to thrive. Not only would the expanded Jones be much more accommodating to disabled residents, it could be one of the most climate resilient libraries in the state. It would eliminate all fossil fuel use, reduce energy use by 60%, with a 41% total lifetime reduction of all carbon emissions. Why would Mr. O’Connor, affiliated with the Green-Rainbow Party, oppose making buildings like libraries more environmentally friendly?

Some have expressed concerns about the cost of the new library, fearing it might bankrupt the town finances. However, Amherst is only on the hook for $15.8 million in total. The rest of the costs for the Jones come from a $13.8 million grant from the state, with additional fundraising which totals $6.6 million.

It would also be much cheaper to spend the money now. If the project does not get passed, it would take another decade to approve a new, more expensive project, and on top of that, the state might see Amherst as a town that opposes free money.

If we can get a new library space for Amherst, it will also provide a crucial incentive to invest in other necessary community infrastructure projects. This includes but is not limited to new, 21st century elementary school buildings and a modern fire department, which other communities have that Amherst needed 10 years ago.

These are among the many reasons why I am voting “Yes” for the Jones Library on Nov. 2, and encourage everyone to vote in favor as well.

Eric Cochrane lives in Amherst.