OPINION: JONES TRUSTEES TO SPEND $57,050 TO DEFINE POSSIBLE SUSTAINABILITY FEATURES

Jones Library. Photo Art Keene.

On Thursday, January 9, 2020, the Jones Library Board of Trustees voted to spend $57,050 for services to be coordinated by Feingold Alexander Architects (FAA) to “Define Sustainability Goals for the Jones Library.”  The vote follows recommendations from the newly-formed Sustainability Committee.

Early last October, FAA told the Trustees that they could not proceed with new schematic designs for the demolition/expansion project until the Trustees gave them direction concerning sustainability goals. The original schematics developed in 2016-17 did not prioritize sustainability and thus did not merit even the lowest level of LEED certification.  The Jones Trustees chose not apply for a Green Library Initiative award at the time of their grant application. A successful Green Library Initiative award could have brough in as much as $450,000.

Trustees now realize that sustainability goals are at the forefront of Town concerns. Once they receive more detailed information from FAA, they can begin to make the difficult financial decisions concerning what it will take to make the project Net Zero Ready. What energy-saving features can they include within the $35.8 million project? Chris Riddle, a retired architect and member of the Sustainability Committee, said that his rule of thumb is that net zero ready may cost up to 10% more in up-front costs. 

In order to receive the MBLC state grant of $13.8 million, the square footage must be expanded to a total of 65,000 sq. ft. from the current 48,000 sq. ft. since a smaller building is not possible within the guidelines of the granting process. The Trustees expect that FAA will have schematic designs by mid-February so that the public can be informed.

The Sustainability Committee prepared a detailed memo to the FAA concerning Energy Use Intensity (EUI), which is the measurement of a building’s annual energy consumption relative to its gross square footage.  Other topics to be investigated include eliminating the use of fossil fuels, using low embodied carbon materials, and how a whole building carbon life-cycle analysis will impact decision-making.

This last point is critical for understanding how the embodied carbon footprint of the new addition – including demolition – could be offset by a reduction in the operational carbon emissions associated with building energy use in comparison to a code-minimum building. The Trustees plan to demolish the entire 1993 addition (40% of the current Jones Library), creating over 1660 tons of demolition debris. Most of the 1928 original building will be gutted with all stairs and paneling removed and walls rearranged.

The funds to pay FAA for this foundational research will be taken out of the Library’s capital project account, originally funded from the $273,000 Van Steenberg unrestricted bequest. So far, the Trustees have already authorized expenditures from this account of $41,000 for schematic redesigns and $75,000 for the capital campaign, including two consultants and marketing materials. 

Other costs for this project include $75,000 spent by the Library ($50,000 from the MBLC and $25,000 from the Town) for the original plans four years ago.  Board President Austin Sarat and Director Sharon Sharry said that the MBLC often requires alterations in designs after an application is made so that the first $75,000 was not “wasted.” The MBLC is requiring that the large meeting room of 2,200 sq. ft. be moved and that a redesign is necessary to receive the grant. Sharry stated that such changes occur often.

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9 thoughts on “OPINION: JONES TRUSTEES TO SPEND $57,050 TO DEFINE POSSIBLE SUSTAINABILITY FEATURES

  1. Thanks, Terry, for this lucid account of a demolition/construction planning process that is troubling in the extreme. I speak as a former Library Trustee President who has followed its vagaries closely for nearly 4 years.

    As to a project’s total physical size, the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners’ grant rules require only that an Addition, Expansion, or Extension “increase the total external dimensions of a public library facility.” That’s from the Code of Massachusetts Regulations, Chapter 605, Section 6.02. That is all that the grant rules require.

    The idea that, to get an MBLC state grant, Amherst must increase the Jones Library’s square footage from its present 51,000 square feet (architects’ measurements) to a projected 66,000 square feet, is simply wrong. Amherst could have qualified for a grant with a design that uses the Library’s present footprint, but increases its “total external dimensions” by means of a new Atrium roof. The Atrium’s ever-leaky roof badly needs replacement, anyway.

    Notably, NOTHING requires a given increase in a library’s “total external dimensions.” Not even a minimum increase is required. I verified this a few years ago with an MBLC architect who is familiar with the Jones. Applying for a grant for a 66,000 square foot project was the Trustees’ and Town’s own choice. The MBLC’s provisional construction grant to Amherst requires a 66,000 square feet project ONLY because that’s the size of project for which the Trustees and Town applied.

  2. Terry, are you saying that the Trustees have authorized spending of $173,050 of the $273,000 Van Steenberg bequest (63%!) on their library expansion project (designs/fundraising)? I can’t help but think that this money could have been better spent on benefits for part-time employees or priority repairs for the library.

    Regardless of one’s views on the merits of the library expansion project, when it is considered in the context of the broader Town needs (three other major capital projects plus dozens of smaller capital needs, about $200 million-worth), it seems prudent to consider withdrawing from the MBLC grant and instead start prioritizing repairs for the Jones building.

    My understanding is that if the cost of repairs does not exceed 30% of the (~$17.7 million) assessed value of the library over three years, then full ADA-compliance is not triggered. The ADA upgrades that would be most impactful for community members with disabilities could of course be prioritized in the most needed repairs.

    Trustees will no doubt say that any repairs will have a domino effect, necessitating more extensive and costly updates that will exceed the $5.3 million threshold over 3 years, but we won’t know that for sure until it is explored with that goal in mind.

    When the Finance Committee ran models of financing the four major capital projects, it seemed clear that two Debt Exclusion Overrides would be needed if all four projects were to happen in a shorter time period (say, within 10 years). With the library project coming up first, the reality that its passage could put in jeopardy the success of a school building project is not to be discounted. Hence, spending more money on the expansion designs at this point seems wasteful to me, especially when we also consider the library’s operating budget challenges and the fact that much of the staff are part-time without benefits.

    I hope the Town Council will have the courage to discuss this dilemma openly soon and make a decision on whether the library project should move forward or not. The sooner that decision is made, the better for the Town.

  3. I strongly support Toni’s point. Withdrawing from the MBLC, provides flexibility and realism. I also support studying Wildwood School as a possible site for the main town library once it is vacated and turned over to the town by the School Committee. I have been planning to write more about this, but won’t get to it for a while.

    Michael Greenebaum

  4. Michael. Thanks for the suggestion about Wildwood School. I find it really intriguing. The town has a considerable shortage of civic space and the Jones is not the only organization that sometimes struggles to find space for its programs. There is a lot of space at Wildwood and I could imagine it being re-fashioned to meet all kinds of community needs. It would be wonderful if someone could model this out – what might it cost to convert Wildwood into community space, how would it affect the needs of the library if several of its programs were moved off-site, and how might this lead us to reimagine what a renovated library might look like? I don’t know how feasible the Wildwood option is, but I would like to see someone explore this further. And I am disappointed that the Library Trustees have not given us sufficient information to compare multiple options and their implications, especially, as Toni has noted, the Jones demolition as proposed may severely constrain our ability to build a new school.

  5. An additional cost for this new demolition/expansion design is for compliance with the Massachusetts historic preservation law. I have not seen any estimate for this cost. The Massachusetts Historical Commission requires highly detailed information about all historic features that the re-design proposes to demolish or otherwise affect. That is just the start of the required process for re-design to eliminate, minimize, and mitigate such “adverse effects.” More on this in a later post. But, for now, I note that this will probably take a lot of architects’ billable time, and there’s evidently been no planning for it.

  6. Dear Sarah, Toni, Mike and Art,

    Thanks for all your thoughtful comments!

    Financial issues:

    Yes, Toni, there is about $100,000 left in the Van Steenberg bequest, now called “the capital fund.” The Trustees themselves have recently voiced concerns that they really don’t know if they will need to take more out of the $100,000 that is left.

    And certainly, the plight of the “under-20” workers, needs to be addressed. Personally I find that phrase demeaning, particularly for tge 6-7 part-time year round employees who may want to work more but are kept at 19.5 hours so as not to trigger decent benefits.

    Grant Guidelines:

    Sarah is correct that the MBLC does not have set specific space guidelines for a grant. It follows what the Director and the Trustees deem appropriate. Since the Trustees wanted every program to continue in the central Jones Library and to expand programming, they depended upon the Director’s expertise to develop the space needs known as the “building program.”

    At first, 110,000 sq. ft. was requested for Trustee approval for the demolition/expansion project. That would have meant a five story building very expensive structure. Then it was lessened to 65,000 sq. ft.

    Other Library Locations:

    Using Wildwood School once it is vacated for a possible new library location and/or a place for other community programs is an idea to be analyzed. As resources lessen, we all must consider various options.

    Capital Project Priorities:

    Most importantly, the Council needs to find a way to prioritize the four major capital projects ASAP. It would be best if the Trustees took themselves out of the state grant now. Let’s start over within the financial constraints of the entire town. The library absolutely needs attention but not such a space expansion.

    The schools must come first and to hold an override for the library before the schools would certainly jeopardize the public’s appetite for additional tax spending.

  7. And, I still love the idea of a Firehouse Annex for the children’s room though I know full well that the local artists also covet that space. I can’t believe how much of hard-earned monies are being frittered away by the Jones Trustees–funds that would go a long way to providing the bathrooms and accessibility lift to the North Amherst Library given that matching funds are available for the North Amherst project.

  8. Interesting idea, Michael….

    The Wildwood site has also been recommended for a community college (perhaps a satellite campus for GCC?) allowing regional middle or high school students — or anyone else in the community — to pursue higher education near where they live or attend other classes, but without having to enroll at UMass.

    Combining both ideas — co-locating a community library and a community college* at the Wildwood site— is something worth considering, so I hope Michael will apply his wisdom** to such considerations when he next writes….

    [*Nota bene: an arguable etymology for “college” is from the Latin “reading together”….

    **I’m hunting for a word that combines the qualities of activism, creativity, experience, humanity and intelligence — perhaps the German word Menschlichkeit?]

  9. Using the eventually-to-vacated downtown Fire Station for a library extension was something I mentioned during the 2017 Jones Library Trustee campaign. During that campaign period, Andy Steinberg (then running for re-election to the Select Board) said that my stance was off the mark because the Town might eventually sell that property because the parcel is such valuable real estate. I also know that in the last three years the BID also had a public meeting about turning the Fire Station into a possible performing arts center but that idea was apparently abandoned.

    It is not in the cards to use part of the $273,000 Van Steenberg unrestricted estate (now called the capital campaign fund) towards the North Amherst Library. The Trustees are trying to keep the downtown library functioning on a daily basis and can not afford to keep the Jones maintained right now. They are down two full time library tech employees. I doubt they will ever spend any money on a building which the town owns, even if they are responsible for the services within that building.

    Looking at the Wildwood site as a possible library and/or community college site brings up an important point. Is anyone in Town Hall looking at the future use of such space (including the South Amherst School and the space in the Middle School basement)? How can we reuse and refurbish what we have, particularly when brick and mortar are involved (literally!)

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