Jewish Community Synagogue, Main Street, East Amherst
Two long established Amherst houses of worship are requesting money from the Community Preservation Act pot which recently doubled in size due to the local ballot initiative passed last November.
The question of separation of church and state or using public money for private endeavors hinges on the public purpose of a project. The Mass Dept of Revenue ruled in 2007 that the preservation of historic structures has a legitimate public purpose.
As a result the CPA committee requires a historic preservation restriction on any funded project so it will stay open to the public in perpetuity.
Angel of the Lilies
For instance, two years ago the town gave the Unitarian Church in town center over $100,000 to help restore their stained glass window "Angel of the Lilies."
Although, back in 2009 Town Meeting rejected spending $7,000 in CPA funds to fix the roof of North Church in North Amherst center (now a Korean Church).
North Church, North AmherstThe Goodwin Memorial Zion Church adjacent to Amherst College is the oldest black church in Amherst, founded in 1910. Although Hope Church, the only other black church in town. is not far behind, having been established in 1912.
Goodwin Memorial A.M.E. Zion Church
They are requesting $25,000 to fund a "Capital Needs Assessment & Archaeological Study" for a major overhaul of the entire building (including handicapped accessibility) but in keeping with its sacred historical significance.
The Church is one of only six buildings in Amherst to make the National Register of Historic Places.
As such, state money via Massachusetts Preservation Project Fund for the actual renovation project would probably be forthcoming in the future, but would of course require the archaeological study and renovation assessment first.
At the January 20 meeting the CPA committee seemed receptive to the half-dozen parishioners who showed up to support their Church project.
Steeple lightening damage bottom right
Another historic former Congregational Church in East Amherst, which became the Jewish Community gathering place back in 1976, is requesting $175,000 to right a lean in their steeple. Last summer it was hit by lightening.
The insurance company will pay to fix the holes but not the 3% lean, which could date back as far as 1927 when a couple of supporting columns were removed to make more room.
Thus the primary purpose of the project is aesthetic, rather than a necessary measure to keep the building from falling down.
The CPA committee seemed a bit skeptical and their questions to the petitioners bordered on a grilling.
A positive recommendation from the CPA committee is mandatory for a project to come before Amherst Town Meeting for approval, so a rejection from them is a death sentence, which even God cannot change.
The committee will take a final up-or-down vote on the 11 projects before them at their March 3rd meeting.