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Editorial: Giving spirit lifts Amherst projects

Three building projects in Amherst, one complete, another nearly done and a third anticipated, will help people work together. Only good things follow from that.

Finishing touches are being applied to the spacious, light-filled building at 138 Sunderland Road that will serve as the new Amherst Survival Center when it opens Dec. 3. The center raised $1.9 million in donations for the building that will take the place of the cramped, heavily used quarters in an old school basement on North Pleasant Street. Every inch of that basement has been pressed into service for 33 years providing low-income people with free lunches, groceries, housewares, clothes and medical care.

The new building will provide twice the area — 6,000 square feet — to accommodate the 4,000 people it serves annually. It will be near the bus line, have 28 parking spaces, examination rooms for volunteer doctors, a reception area and a roomy open floor plan. In addition to many small contributions, the center received $200,000 from one donor and $119,5000 from seven banks. Fundraisers are still seeking money for furnishings and other expenses, but Jan Eidelson, president of the board of trustees, says, “The community has been incredible.”

Meanwhile, work is set to start in the spring to expand the Unitarian Universalist Society building in the heart of downtown Amherst. The congregation has been feeling the pinch of limited space as it grows, according to the president of its trustees. A gift from a member enables it to tackle a roughly $1 million project that members have long contemplated.

Plans call for a new two-story section to rise on the east side of the 121 North Pleasant St. building on land the institution now leases to the town for parking. While the project will cost Amherst a few parking spaces, and while neighboring businesses will have to adjust to the change, it is heartening to see this religious community build on its success in making a home for contemplation and its progressive faith.

When complete, the addition will provide Society members with a place to hold religious education classes and to meet informally outside of their sanctuary, which must now serve double-duty as a social hall.

When not using the new space itself, the Society plans to make it available to the community to rent, helping fill a gap in such options.

Meantime, over at the Jones Library, a recently completed project has transformed the former lower meeting room in the basement into an appealing center for community activity. The old space, a true workhorse, was showing its age.

Thanks to the gift of $180,000 from a bequest of more than $700,000 from the estate of Richard and Nathalie Woodbury of Shutesbury, the room now boasts new woodwork, carpeting, lighting and paint. The gift also allowed the library to equip it with new furniture and, importantly, up-to-date audiovisual equipment. Last month a gathering gave the public a chance to see the new room and thank the Woodburys, for whom the room is now named.

Visitors found a brighter room that creates a more welcoming setting for the diverse events that take place.

Gifts from generous, community-minded people propel the Survival Center’s efforts, the Society’s expansion and the new Woodbury Room. The region is lucky to attract people who engage so fully with their communities and dig deep to make them better places for all.

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