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Bruce Watson on the Jones Library at 100

This guest post was written by Bruce Watson, the former newspaper columnist and author of the new book, “Hearth and Soul: A History of the Jones Library at 100.” His writing, which includes many articles in Smithsonian magazine and several books, will be recognized at the library’s Samuel Minot Jones Awards tonight. Through hundreds of columns for the Amherst Bulletin and Daily Hampshire Gazette, I’ve told many stories. About my kids (both doing well, thank you). About politics (not so well, sorry to say). About our colorful culture. But recently I took on a story unlike any I’d covered. If …

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A year later, how is new charter working?

A year ago, Amherst residents voted to approve a new charter, with a Town Council replacing Town Meeting and the Select Board. So how are we doing with our new form of government? As a member of the Charter Commission, I was one of nine people who met for 18 months to hammer out the structure and details of the new system. So I have been watching closely to see whether it has promoted democracy and citizen participation in the ways that we intended. I have concluded that in many ways, the new system is working very well, although I …

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Newspapers seek Amherst ideas

Michael Greenebaum thinks the Amherst Bulletin should review local musical productions and not reprint so many Daily Hampshire Gazette stories. Town Councilor Andy Steinberg wants the newspapers to provide information about important decisions before they are made. Meg Gage believes the newspapers should not “fuel controversy” and should try to help the town move forward. About 30 people gathered at Amherst Coffee last Wednesday, at the invitation of three leaders of the Gazette and Bulletin, to give their thoughts about how the newspapers could serve the town better. Gazette Editor Brooke Hauser said she will be overseeing the Bulletin, and …

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Jaago, Amherst!

“Jaago” means “wake up” in Bengali, Hindi, and Urdu. It’s a call to the masses to fight for their rights, to make a difference. JAAGO is also a nonprofit in Bangladesh that educates street children. In 2009, Korvi Rakshand launched his one-room, mud-floor free school in one of the biggest slums in Dhaka with 17 kids. His goal: to eliminate poverty through education. The children — from families of farmers, sweepers, beggars, domestics, brick breakers, and sex workers — learn everything from speaking English to basic hygiene, like brushing teeth. Ten years later, JAAGO educates 3,000 children in 12 schools …

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Councilors hear pleas on school buildings

The Town Council faced a barrage of pleas Monday from 19 teachers, principals and parents who want it to send a strong message to state funding officials that Amherst needs a new elementary school. Councilors heard about leaky roofs, mold growth, cold classrooms, teacher illnesses, caved-in ceilings and rodents at Fort River and Wildwood Schools. The Council will vote April 1 on a proposal to seek state money for a new school building. Many of the complaints had been heard before, but rarely so vividly or in such impassioned detail. This blog post will summarize many of them. Superintendent Mike …

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Consensus on a compromise

A broad consensus seems to be emerging that a compromise plan to apply for state money to help finance a new elementary school is the best way to provide healthy buildings for our children without enormous tax increases. But you’d never suspect that from reading a guest column in this week’s Amherst Bulletin. It poses lots of questions and claims that a thorough process for receiving public comment was somehow incomplete. This column employs a rhetorical technique called “sea-lioning.” I’ll explain, but first some background. On Monday night, the Town Council will discuss the compromise plan and will vote on …

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Council to discuss affordable housing plan

The cost of housing in Amherst has concerned residents and officials for years. Support for increasing the number of housing units for people with incomes at or below the median income for the area is included in the town’s master plan. Nevertheless, very little housing was built in Amherst in the decades of 1980 to 2010, and even less of that was affordable. At the Town Council meeting this Monday, the Council will hear a request to approve a Request for Proposals (RFP) to select a developer to convert the town’s East Street property to affordable housing. The property is …

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Turnout dismal at public budget forum

Only 16 people showed up Thursday to learn about how Amherst will spend $80 million in public money next year, and only six of them had anything to say about it. For a simplified summary of what the town manager said, and comments from the six people, keep reading. But first, let me set the scene for you. This public forum took place in the same place where Town Meeting used to meet. To see rows of empty seats where an average of 180 citizens used to meet was, well, eerie. But it got eerier. The forum was required to …

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A neighborhood meets on local issues

More than 60 people who live just south of the UMass campus got together Sunday to learn about and discuss issues distinctive to their neighborhood. I don’t live in that part of Amherst, but I have many friends who do, and I came to the meeting at the Jones Library to see how this kind of neighborhood action works. As a member of the Charter Commission, I supported the requirement that the 10 district councilors convene at least two public meetings a year. I was very impressed, not only with the turnout Sunday, but with the information provided, and the …

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Citizens consider compromise school plan

The compromise plan to build one new elementary school, with significant state assistance, got its first public airings Wednesday. While many people see this compromise as the best option, educationally and financially, a small group of opponents also attended. You may recall that two years ago, Town Meeting killed a voter-approved plan to build two new elementary schools at the Wildwood site. They would have replaced Wildwood and Fort River, which are well past their sell-by dates and architecturally backward. Opponents gave two reasons: they wanted to keep the three-school model and didn’t like the proposal to make Crocker Farm …