Amherst council gets go-ahead to use $1M in CPA funds on Jones Library work

Staff Writer
Published: 12/5/2020 2:09:19 PM

AMHERST — In a reversal from earlier in the year, the Community Preservation Act Committee is recommending that the Town Council use $1 million from the account for the proposed build-out of a new special collections room at the Jones Library.

The committee recently voted 8-0, with one abstention, to support the spending, contingent on the money being used as part of a planned $35.6 million renovation and expansion project of the Amity Street building.

The 48,000-square-foot building, expected be enlarged by about 17,000 square feet, was originally constructed in 1928, with an addition added in 1993. Materials in the special collections room, which is divided between the original and newer parts of the building, were damaged by a leak in July caused by a malfunctioning heating, ventilation and air conditioning system. It was the fourth significant leak in the past five years in the special collections area.

Before the CPA money can be used, the Town Council would have to approve the spending by a two-thirds majority, said Town Comptroller Sonia Aldrich.

The Town Council also is being asked by trustees for the Jones Library to give a favorable vote for the renovation and expansion project by the end of April, in advance of the state’s expected award of a construction grant in July.  The project is in line for $13.87 million from the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners.

But Council President Lynn Griesemer said at a retreat of the council held last month that no decision has yet been made on whether the council will schedule a meeting on the topic before that time.

The library is one of four major capital projects in town that will likely cost in excess of $100 million, with the others being a new elementary school, a new Department of Public Works headquarters and a new fire station in South Amherst.

The library is expected to be the first to be awarded a grant, while the elementary school will also receive state support. The fire station is planned for the current site of the DPW on South Pleasant Street, but town officials don’t yet have a new site for the DPW. In addition, no decisions have been made by the council on how the projects would be funded and whether any will be put to Proposition 2½ debt exclusion override votes.

Without a vote by the council in support of the library project, any fundraising to move the project forward could be stymied, councilors acknowledged during the retreat.

Still, District 3 Councilor George Ryan said he is confident that there will be a good fundraising campaign so that trustees will not have to use any money from the Jones Inc. endowment to pay for the project. Trustees have already pledged reserves against the fundraising.

“There’s going to be a fundraising piece, and I think it will be fairly successful,” Ryan said. 

District 3 Councilor Dorothy Pam, though, said she would like to see fundraisers and donors known soon, and before a vote on the library is taken in April.

At Large Councilor Alisa Brewer said she is uncomfortable forcing the library to seek out money “when we don’t have a Friends of the DPW, Friends of the Fire Station or a Friends of the Elementary School raising money for those projects.”

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.


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