State adds $1.69M in funding for Amherst’s Jones Library project; $472K for Tilton Library in Deerfield

  • An artist’s conception shows a renovated and expanded Jones Library as seen from next to the Amherst History Museum. COURTESY FINEGOLD ALEXANDER ARCHITECTS

Published: 6/7/2023 5:50:03 PM

AMHERST — A boost in state support is benefiting the planned renovation and expansion of the Jones Library in Amherst and the Tilton Library in Deerfield.

The Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners on June 1 approved 15% escalation grant payments, totaling $11.2 million, for 12 library projects awarded during the 2016-2017 round.

This unanimous decision by the state panel means the Jones Library is in line to see its $13.8 million grant go up by $1.69 million. That amount was calculated through determining that eligible costs had grown from $32.87 million in fiscal 2017 to $37.8 million in fiscal 2023.

Similarly, Tilton Library in Deerfield will see an increase in its award, with an extra payment of $471,703, as eligible costs rose from $7.37 million to $8.48 million.

“We are grateful to the MBLC for this increase to help close the gap and see our project through,” Jones Library Director Sharon Sharry said in a statement. “Their support is essential for every library in the commonwealth.”

The Jones project is currently projected at $43.5 million. The library is being renovated and modernized to be fully accessible and among the most climate-friendly libraries in Massachusetts as it’s expanded from 48,000 square feet to 63,000 square feet. Much of the original 1928 building will be preserved and restored as part of the project.

The original project cost was estimated at $36.6 million, with a $13.8 million grant from the MBLC and $15.8 million committed by the Town Council in April 2021.

The additional money from the state comes through advocacy from more than a dozen legislators and municipal officials who pushed for it in the face of inflationary pressures and other pandemic-related cost escalations.

Sen. Jo Comerford, D-Northampton, Rep. Mindy Domb, D-Amherst, and Rep. Natalie M. Blais, D-Deerfield, were among the legislators who hailed the May 11 decision by the Executive Office for Administration and Finance that approved the MBLC request for more money for the library construction grants.

“This is the embodiment of government at its best,” Comerford said. “Kudos to the Healey-Driscoll administration for hearing the call for help from libraries and municipalities statewide.”

Comerford also recognized town and library officials in Amherst and Deerfield for helping galvanize their peers in other parts of Massachusetts

“These library projects now have a better chance of crossing the finish line because of these collaborative efforts,” Domb said.

Blais said there was an urgency to make this happen because of what libraries represent. “The libraries in our communities offer so much more than books — they are gathering spaces for knitting, coffee, yoga and Qigong; they are places where our children build Legos; they are even concert spaces and art galleries,” she said.

Kent W. Faerber, who co-chairs the Amherst capital campaign that is seeking to close the gap between the project’s estimated cost and town and state funding, calls the Jones an anchor of civic life in downtown.

“As with many efforts to invest in our communities during the pandemic, Sen. Comerford and Rep. Domb deserve credit for working with the MBLC to take this critical step to mitigate the cost escalation,” Faerber said.

The latest money for the Jones comes after U.S. Rep. Jim McGovern last month announced $2.1 million in federal funding secured for the renovation and expansion. Of that, $1.1 million comes from a federal earmark announced last December, and $1 million comes from the National Endowment for the Humanities’ Infrastructure and Capacity Building Challenge Grant program,

“We’ve secured funding from sources that weren’t even on our radar screen,” Faerber said.

Ginny Hamilton, manager of the capital campaign, said that with this latest announcement, the campaign has secured just over $7.5 million, exceeding the short-term goal of having $7 million in commitments by the end of the year — about half of what’s needed from fundraising to fully fund the project. The full project costs are now 80% realized.

An updated cost estimate is expected in late spring or early summer, with efforts already undertaken to reduce costs without sacrificing programming and sustainability measures.

Sharry said the final cost won’t be known until contractors put in bids next year, but that town’s commitment remains at $15.8 million.

“The Capital Campaign Committee, the Friends (of the Jones Library), and the community will see this project through,” Sharry said.

Tilton’s project

The push for more money, which began in Deerfield with a letter from its Select Board, eventually brought in 11 other libraries from as far east as Gloucester, along with more than a dozen legislators together to request the state supply more aid to reduce the tax burden these projects put on residents.

“We are delighted because we have been working since this all started last summer,” said Tilton Library Director Candace Bradbury-Carlin. “Our Select Board just stepped right up and the ripple effect with all the players — the legislators, the libraries all joining together — it almost felt like an unstoppable force … To actually see a result is wonderful.”

Tilton Library’s project will expand the building on North Main Street from 4,366 square feet to 12,784 square feet. Key improvements include expanded teen and children’s rooms, meeting and coworking spaces on the second floor, and a “nighttime suite” that will be accessible after hours featuring meeting spaces, a small kitchen and bathrooms.

The original cost of the project was project around $8 million, with a $4 million grant from the MBLC, but that projection ballooned to more than $12 million in the years since the grant was initially submitted.

The town was initially expected to borrow funds within the range of $5.26 million to $6.26 million and this additional $471,703 will lower that amount, thus reducing the tax burden on Deerfield residents.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at


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