The fate of the magisterial Main Branch of the New York Public Library, guarded by two lions who watch over Fifth Avenue, could be related to that of an unbuilt science center at Amherst College.
NYPL President Tony Marx – who was Amherst’s president until 2011 – is staking his reputation on an ambitious plan that will replace seven floors of cast iron stacks in the landmarked 1911 building with a fully circulating library. Meanwhile, two million research volumes will move under adjacent Bryant Park. The plan has been highly contested both for its alleged tampering with an architectural gem and what many perceive will be increased difficulty in retrieving books indispensable to scholars.
Opponents of Marx’s plan – some of whom have filed lawsuits – may find ammunition in a Boston Globe story published yesterday. It is the tale of a gleaming $245 million science center that would, presumably, make Amherst a more competitive research institution.
The problem is that, after $19 million, Amherst has scrapped the original plan for the project. Apparently, poor planning had not led to a proper estimation of what it would cost to build the center partly underground. Nor had college administrators realized that construction near the student center would cause a major annoyance. Both of these factors have led current Amherst officials to determine that the project, as is, should not move forward.