Atrium in the Jones Library constructed as part of a 1993 renovation. The atrium, which leaks, is slated to be demolished under the new expansion plan. Photo: Art Keene.

Reports from Jones Library meetings, Board of Trustees (8/15), Feasibility and Design Committee ( 8/12/19 and 8/20/19)

By Terry S. Johnson and Sarah McKee

The Jones Library trustees at their August 15 meeting agreed with the library’s Feasibility and Design Committee to appropriate $41,100 for Feingold Alexander Architects (FAA) to redesign the library’s demolition/expansion proposal and conceptual cost estimate. The draft contract is being reviewed and revised, with plans to approve it on August 30.

The redesign is needed to meet requirements of the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners (MBLC), which would provide a $13.8 million provisional grant for the $50 million (including interest) project. The trustees had been notified that the proposal is ineligible unless the large meeting room of more than 2,200 square feet is moved from the first floor to the lower level.

The Jones is second on the waiting list and could receive the grant as early as July 2020. Trustees President Austin Sarat warned that “[we need to] elevate what we’re doing.”

FAA, which created the original plans for the grant application in 2017, will study alternatives for building massing which includes the general shape and form as well as window and site placement. Details in the contract include a kick-off conference call, choice of two plans, two meetings with the MBLC to review the revised plans, two professional renderings (one exterior, one interior), and two meetings at the library with the trustees and/or the general public. The fee for this work is $34,100. In addition, the conceptual cost estimate will cost $7,000, for a total of $41,100.

Library Director Sharon Sharry emphasized that energy efficiency options, as well as cost estimates for historic preservation, have been requested as part of the new contract design plan. Sarat said the trustees “will explore net-zero and work down from there.” However, the Owner’s Project Manager Ken Guyette, the third party hired by the Jones to provide design and construction oversight, said that net zero energy would be “difficult” because of the small size of the property.

The original building plans submitted to the MBLC do not meet even the lowest level of LEED certification. Thus the library did not request any “green” funding from the MBLC’s Green Library Initiative program.  Due to the size of the proposed project, the Jones failure to include energy savings means that about $450,000 will not be awarded.

FAA will consult with Epsilon Associates, Inc. of Maynard, MA about other funding possibilities. Epilon’s website states that it “is an environmental engineering and consulting company specializing in securing environmental approvals for real estate, energy, and infrastructure development projects for public and private sector clients.”

At no time during either the trustees’ meeting or the feasibility committee’s meetings did any board or committee member discuss how the $41,100 for new plans will be funded. Last June, however, the trustees voted to place an unrestricted bequest of $273,000 from the estate of deceased Leverett resident John van Steenberg into the capital campaign fund.

$75,000 of public monies, including $50,000 from the MBLC and $25,000 from the Town of Amherst, has already been spent on architectural designs for the proposed demolition/expansion. The library cannot receive historic preservation tax credits because it is not an income-producing property.  The library hopes to raise $3.1 million in additional grant funding. It also hopes to raise $2.9 million in private donations, and is preparing to launch a community engagement initiative, headed by trustee Alex Levebre and Feasibility Committee member Joan Temkin. Over ten stakeholders’ groups have been identified; meetings will be held to inform them about the proposed demolition/rebuilding project. The meetings will be open to all members of the public.

During the summer of 2016, before submitting their grant application, the trustees scheduled two public meetings about the project, yet public comment was limited by the trustees as to the amount of time for input as well as subjects about which the public could comment.   One could only comment on the plan before them and not on the viability of the plan. For example, the Trustees stated that the location, the 65,000 sq. ft. proposed building, and the program (number of square foot for each library program) were set and could not be changed. 

This time, Sarat says, the library “will be more active than passive.” Director Sharry suggested having someone other than the architects and the library lead the meetings.  As in 2016, the parameters of the project are set by the Jones and the MBLC.

Other Library System News

1) Budget shortfalls for FY 2019 for the entire Jones library system are still being reconciled. There may also be upcoming budget deficits for FY 2020. Trustee Treasurer Bob Pam reported that the Jones “front-loaded” receipt of money from the endowment, which funds basic operations and health insurance. According to Pam, the amount drawn will run out in January 2020, and If fundraising is successful, the library will be “OK.”

2) A new Memorandum of Understanding with the Friends of the Jones Library System (“Friends”) might be ready in September. The Friends have already taken over fundraising for the annual fund drive with a newly-formed development committee headed by Kent Faerber, and have been asked to oversee the entire capital campaign.

3) The Jones trustees voted to end fines for overdue books and other materials. Replacement fees will still be in effect. This decision follows a local and national trend to end fines

4) A valuable oil painting was vandalized in May and is being restored

5) Results of a study of the branch libraries, more than one year in the making, will be made public this fall.

6) The 1990s HVAC system for Special Collections broke down and needs a new part. Fortunately, it occurred on a weekday and was discovered before much damage was done.

7) An anonymous donor recently offered to cover the costs of making the North Amherst Library ADA-compliant and to equip it with public restrooms.

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