Ship part

Guest Columnist George Ryan: Let’s Not Abandon Ship

Posted: 09/18/2022 19:52:45

Modified: 09/18/2022 19:52:05

Recent news that the latest estimates for the Jones Library renovation and expansion are considerably higher than the original cost estimate has led some to call for the project to be scrapped. In my opinion, that would be a big mistake.

First of all, such a decision could well cost the city more money in the long run. The existing building would still need immediate and costly repairs. The estimated cost of a simple ‘repair job’, which was done before the referendum, showed it would cost as much or more than the city’s $15.8 million commitment for restoration and renovation . And these costs are subject to the same inflationary pressures. They go up like everything else. If we abandon the project, we won’t save money and we won’t get anything that 65% of voters voted for. How can that make sense?

Second, pulling the plug at this point completely bypasses the fundraising campaign. The Jones Library Capital Campaign has already reached 93% of its initial fundraising goal during the silent phase (six months ahead of schedule) and is now ready to begin its public phase. They are confident, given the response to date and overwhelming voter support in the referendum, that they can meet and in fact significantly exceed their goals.

They also identified a number of new sources of funding that were not part of the original fundraising campaign: a $1.1 million federal allocation and a $1 million NEH Infrastructure Challenge grant. Why not give the Jones Library Capital Campaign Committee a chance to deliver on its promise? Why stop a major fundraising effort when it’s about to hit its stride?

Third, there is an important role here for our political representatives at the state level. Fourteen other Commonwealth cities face the same extraordinary inflationary pressures on their library projects from the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners. There are realistic sources of state funding that can be tapped into that could help all of these communities achieve their goal of a 21st century library.

State Representative Mindy Domb and State Senator Jo Comerford are aware of the situation and plan, in conjunction with their colleagues, to explore possible sources of state funding. We have to give them a chance to do their job.

And finally, the call to drop the project at this point is frankly an insult to the 65% of Amherst voters who endorsed the project as originally conceived. A sudden abandonment of the project without pursuing all reasonable avenues of additional funding strikes me as deeply undemocratic.

If next July the fundraising effort fails and the state is unwilling or unable to offer any assistance, a very difficult and painful decision will have to be made. For my part, I would be deeply and bitterly disappointed. But at least on this point, I agree with those who are already asking us to abandon ship: if the funding is not there, then the project cannot move forward. But we’re not there.

The sudden calls to drop the project at this point are premature and frankly more than a little suspicious, considering many are coming from the same voices that didn’t support the project in the first place.

Let’s not be in a hurry. Let people do their job. And let’s continue to work together towards a goal that a large majority of residents have long wanted: a renovated and expanded library that will meet the needs of all members of our community well into the 21st century.

George Ryan lives in Amherst.