Nancy Ratner: Full expansion, renovation of the Jones Library would be a wise investment

  • Jones Library special collections curator Cyndi Harbeson checks for remaining moisture in one of the books damaged by a leak from the HVAC system discovered last week. gazette file photo/kevin gutting

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Like many other readers, I did not initially favor the expansion of the Jones Library, given the cost to the town and my very real concerns that the charm of the old library would be lost.

I thought we could fix the problems for minimal cost and save our funds for a new elementary school, which, as a former chair of the Amherst School Committee, I believe we desperately need.

But having heard from the town manager that the town has responsibly been squirreling away funds and can afford both this project and the school project, having reviewed the estimate from Kuhn Riddle Architects that addresses only the most egregious problems with the building (with no attention to sustainability, for example), I now believe that the larger project — the proposed renovation and expansion — presents a far more sensible option than the minimal repair.

The difference in cost to the town between the Kuhn Riddle renovation ($14.4 million-$16.8 million) and the larger project (estimated to be $21.8 million after receiving the $13.8 million in assistance from the state library board) would amount to $5 million-7 million, some of which is likely to be offset by private fundraising and the Jones Library endowment fund.

That additional expenditure would not just create a fully accessible building (the goal of the Kuhn Riddle proposal); it would also double the library space for our youngest children, provide our teens with a room of their own, greatly expand the size of the study area for library users and the English as a second language population, increase the availability of computers for the many families who don’t have resources at home, protect our incredible special collections which recently suffered damage to the collection, the result of a leak in the HVAC system, and create a more sustainable building.

And it will do all of this while reopening to the public the oldest, most beautiful rooms in the historic part of the building. I think it would be shortsighted — perhaps even irresponsible — for the town to turn down the state funds, funds which we town’s people have contributed to with our tax dollars. I hope the town will not consider any project less than the full expansion and renovation.

Nancy Ratner