Amherst College makes $1.3M promise to region for Jones Library, hospital emergency department and the Drake venue

Rendering of the Jones Library addition. Amherst College announced Tuesday its intention to donate $1 million to the renovation and expansion project for the library.

Rendering of the Jones Library addition. Amherst College announced Tuesday its intention to donate $1 million to the renovation and expansion project for the library. file

Rendering of the Jones Library addition. Amherst College announced Tuesday its intention to donate $1 million to the renovation and expansion project for the library.

Rendering of the Jones Library addition. Amherst College announced Tuesday its intention to donate $1 million to the renovation and expansion project for the library. file

A rendering is displayed for the planned emergency department building at Cooley Dickinson Hospital during a groundbreaking ceremony earlier this year. Amherst College announced Tuesday that it is donating $250,000 to the project.

A rendering is displayed for the planned emergency department building at Cooley Dickinson Hospital during a groundbreaking ceremony earlier this year. Amherst College announced Tuesday that it is donating $250,000 to the project. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

Cooley Dickinson Hospital President and Chief Operating Officer Lynnette Watkins speaks during a groundbreaking ceremony for the planned emergency department building   earlier this year in Northampton. Amherst College announced Tuesday that it is donating $250,000 to the project.

Cooley Dickinson Hospital President and Chief Operating Officer Lynnette Watkins speaks during a groundbreaking ceremony for the planned emergency department building earlier this year in Northampton. Amherst College announced Tuesday that it is donating $250,000 to the project. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

Amherst College President Michael Elliott announced Tuesday  that the college is donating $1.3 million to the Jones Library renovation and expansion project, $250,000 to Cooley Dickinson’s emergency department expansion and $75,000 to the Drake, a performance venue in Amherst.

Amherst College President Michael Elliott announced Tuesday that the college is donating $1.3 million to the Jones Library renovation and expansion project, $250,000 to Cooley Dickinson’s emergency department expansion and $75,000 to the Drake, a performance venue in Amherst. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

By SCOTT MERZBACH

Staff Writer

Published: 11-01-2023 12:07 PM

AMHERST — A $1 million gift from Amherst College is supporting the renovation and expansion of the Jones Library expected to break ground next year, marking the largest contribution so far to the ongoing $14.6 million capital campaign.

The college’s donation, announced Tuesday, is part of more than $1.3 million the institution is committing to entities in the region, with $250,000 being given to Cooley Dickinson Hospital in Northampton for enlarging its emergency department, and $75,000 going to the Drake performance venue in downtown Amherst to sustain its programming.

Amherst College President Michael A. Elliott announced the gifts, which, for the library and its $43.95 million project to add 15,000 square feet to the 43 Amity St. building and meet the needs of the community, supplements $100,000 the college previously donated during its bicentennial celebration in 2021.

“The town of Amherst is our home and a vital part of the fabric of the college,” Elliott said in a statement. “The town’s vibrant culture is an important part of the package that attracts talented people to our campus, and we are committed to continuing to invest in our shared future as neighbors.”

Elliott added that libraries provide free access to information and resources to the public, and like colleges and universities, are engines of democracy and social justice.

On top of the $1.1 million for the Jones Library project, the college is expected to increase its support of the Amherst schools and Amherst Fire Department as part of a strategic partnership agreement being discussed with town officials.

Meanwhile, the college is making its first contribution to Cooley Dickinson’s $19 million emergency room expansion, which broke ground in July and which is expected to be completed in 2025. The project will make the emergency department 40% bigger.

Already, $8 million of that project’s costs were raised through the community and The Transforming Emergency Care: Campaign for the Cooley Dickinson Hospital Emergency Department, with $250,000 donated by Smith College.

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“We are so grateful to Amherst College for this incredibly generous gift that will help strengthen emergency care, care that is provided to local students, patients and our shared community every day,” said Lynnette Watkins, president and chief operating officer of Cooley Dickinson Hospital.

At The Drake, which is a nonprofit, the college’s support ensures the viability of the venue and vibrancy of downtown, said Gabrielle Gould, executive director of the Amherst Business Improvement District.

“The college recognizes the impact The Drake continues to make in our community for all of our residents,” Gould said, adding that some free programming is an important addition to student life at Amherst and Hampshire colleges, and the University of Massachusetts.

The donation comes as The Drake, operated by the Downtown Amherst Foundation, is creating a small group of sustaining members and making an annual appeal this fall.

Amherst College and the Jones

The Jones Library, founded in 1919 and opened in a new building in 1928, has had a deep connection with the college throughout its history.

The bequest establishing the library named then-College President George Harris and a faculty member as two of the original trustees. Since then, many faculty and staff members have volunteered their time and expertise in various ways to the library, with Austin Sarat, an Amherst College professor of jurisprudence and political science, currently serving as the trustees president. In addition, the college’s Emily Dickinson Museum and Mead Art Museum are frequent collaborators with the Jones Library.

Those who are involved with the library and the building project applauded the college’s donation.

“We are deeply grateful to the college for joining its neighbors in supporting this critical project so enthusiastically,” said Jones Library Capital Campaign Co-Chairman Kent W. Faerber. “This is yet one more confirmation of the value of both the Jones Library, generally, and the proposed project to our shared community.”

Sharon Sharry, director of the Jones Library, observes that the donation counts toward a $1 million National Endowment for the Humanities challenge grant the library received in May, meaning that additional funds for the renovation and expansion can be unlocked.

“This gift is a wonderful demonstration of the college’s commitment to the town and helps ensure the Jones Library will continue to serve as the heart and hub of Amherst for decades to come,” Sharry said.

Sarat said those who have spent the last decade or more working on plans to expand and renovate the library, providing more room for the English as a Second Language program, dedicated teen space and a larger special collections room, are energized by the college’s commitment.

“Public libraries, like the Jones, are critical to the democratic architecture of any community,” Sarat said. “They knit communities together and open up the world for ourselves and our children.”

The donations also illustrate Elliott’s efforts to make the campus more welcoming for local residents and to support activities that connect students with the place they call home while studying Amherst. To that end, the college’s support will also be directed to specific partnership projects in the areas of public education, sustainability, economic development, housing, and equity and inclusion in the next several years.

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