Jones Library project denied $1M in CPA funding

  • Jones Library in Amherst  STAFF FILE PHOTO/KEN HEIDEL

Staff Writer
Published: 7/8/2020 5:22:39 PM

AMHERST — Community Preservation Act money to support the $35.6 million project to expand and renovate the Jones Library will not be available this year.

In a reversal of an earlier recommendation, the CPA Committee recently voted against providing $1 million, to be bonded over a 10-year period, to the library for expanding its special collections area from 4,200 square feet to 6,500 square feet, providing better climate control, and being more visible and accessible to patrons.

But in the 8-1 vote, with only member Sarah Marshall voting against, the committee requested a new application from the Friends of the Jones Library, and the committee is leaving open the possibility that CPA money could be available for the building project in the next round.

The initial request had raised concerns that CPA money could not be used for the project since it was unclear whether it fit the definition of a “historical preservation” project. Though town attorney KP Law provided an opinion that it was an appropriate use, the executive director of the state’s Community Preservation Coalition said otherwise because the money might not be used for documents and artifacts.

CPA Committee Chairman Nate Budington, who is stepping down as he moves to Williamstown, said he finds the vision for expanding the Jones Library “thrilling,” but isn’t sure whether the CPA money is needed to make the project a reality.

“My opposition to this has nothing to do with any negative opinion about what the Jones people have come up with,” Budington said.

The committee’s decision came despite no urgency to act. Town Manager Paul Bockelman told the committee that the Town Council would likely not vote on this part of CPA spending until the end of the calendar year.

In addition, while the library is in line to receive $13.87 million from the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners for the project, there is uncertainty about when this will happen. Announcements about such provisional grants are often made in July, though these could be delayed due to the pandemic.

Committee member Diana Stein said she had been concerned that the library might use CPA money to create a new wing for special collections in the library, but that it would be fine do so within the confines of the historic building.

“I think this proposal could be delayed if the whole project is going to be delayed and will be brought back in a way that would assuage my concerns,” Stein said.

Robin Fordham, the committee’s representative from the Historical Commission, said the commission is supporting the proposal based on its importance, necessity and appropriateness.

Austin Sarat, president of the library trustees, said it would help the process to have library officials respond. “I don’t think we’ve really had a fair chance to talk about those concerns because many of them are new on the table, at least to me, as I listen to the conversation tonight,” Sarat said.

Two members of the public spoke about the project as well.

Matt Blumenfeld, whose company, Financial Development Agency, has assisted the library on the project, said the CPA money should be recommended to the Town Council.

“I think it’s an important factor in the project’s favor that CPA dollars can be used here to both help restore an iconic structure in the heart of our downtown and to create conditions suitable for the long-term preservation of archives and other articles of historical importance within the structure,” Blumenfeld said.

The other comment came from Planning Board member Janet McGowan, an attorney who suggested that because this remains a legal issue, mediation should be sought before any decision is made on spending CPA funds.

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


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