By MOLLY TURNER
In Amherst, we celebrate the earth, science and sustainability. We recently marched for science, and celebrated Earth Day. We have a sustainability office, and Amherst has won “Green Community” status from the Massachusetts Department of Energy and Environment. To do so we had to meet certain criteria, including setting requirements to minimize life-cycle costs for new construction. While buildings create emissions during their years of operation, they tax our environment the most during construction and demolition.
A non-profit organization formed to combat the climate change crisis, Architecture 2030, recently posted this message: “Life During Trump: Progress On Climate Change Will Come From the Bottom Up.”
Architecture 2030 maintains that architects, planners and builders must champion the effort to implement the 2016 Paris Agreement on greenhouse gas mitigation. This effort includes building in a sustainable, resilient, and carbon-neutral fashion.
On the local level, Amherst residents, and especially members of Town Meeting, should insist that builders and developers respond to environmental concerns. We can urge our municipal leaders to seriously consider the ways that our ambitious capital building program, if allowed to go forward, would contribute to deterioration of our planet’s health.
It is time to consider how Amherst, with its plans for a hundred million dollars of construction (and related demolition), would create pollution and debris, compounding the environmental impact of the massive building program undertaken by UMass-Amherst.
We should stand up for our planet, and oppose the wasteful Jones Library expansion project. The plans and program that will be submitted to the granting authority will not allow for green building certification or net-zero energy operation, and will lead to loss of scarce green space, which a precious resource in the center of town. Demolition and construction will create tons of greenhouse gas-emitting debris. Moreover, the expansion and renovation design would not reuse most of the serviceable structure that is already there. The new design requires excessive amount of square footage and more parking, rather than refocusing users to our branch libraries.
We need our civic leaders, including the Select Board, Town Manager, the Planning Department, Planning Board, the Community Preservation Act Committee, the Conservation Commission, the Finance Committee and other officials and agencies to take responsibility not just for development goals, but for stewardship of our natural resources.
In the end, municipal expenses are more than just debt capacity and interest payments; they include environmental costs. The environment is a stakeholder and needs equal time, a level playing field, and community support in all deliberations and decisions by our boards and committees, and by Town Meeting.
We should stand up for our planet, and oppose the wasteful Jones Library expansion project. We should also insist on addressing the needs of all our libraries, with a better public process, and with focused and realistic goals that include environmental construction elements. Then we will truly have a 21st century library system.
(Molly Turner is a former president of the Jones Library Board of Trustees, and is a Town Meeting member from Precinct 1.)
Editor’s Note: A design for the expansion and renovation of the Jones Library was narrowly approved by Amherst Town Meeting earlier this month. The total project cost is estimated at $36 million, and could include about $14 million in state grant funds, which have been applied for by the Jones Library Board of Trustees. A private fundraising effort is underway, and the board has said it may request $16 million in local funds when Town Meeting meets again in the fall. The trustees maintain that the library needs to be modernized, with larger, better spaces for children and teenagers, and easier, safer access for people with disabilities. The existing architectural plans call for demolishing a large section built in 1993, for which the town completed payment about 17 years later.