A lower-cost alternative to a renovation/expansion project of the Jones Library was presented to the Library Trustees by the President of Kuhn Riddle Architects (KRA), Aelan Tierney, on June 12th. KRA recently completed an Accessibility Study of the library and updated the required building improvements identified by Western Builders in 2017.
Tierney described a repair/renovation option estimated at a cost of $14.4 million that would bring the existing building up to code and make it functional for the next 25-50 years, but would not make it any larger. This option provides a much lower-cost alternative to the renovation/expansion project estimated in 2016 at $35.6 million, with part of that total to be paid with a $13.7 million grant from the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners (MBLC). The grant was expected to be awarded next month but, according to a report by the Town Manager, the Library Director met with the MBLC and requested a delay for one year. The KRA study will allow the Library Trustees and the Town to evaluate and compare the two alternatives.
In her presentation, Tierney described two options for a renovation. The first would require the library to be closed and relocated twice for a total of 82 weeks, costing an estimated $16.8 million. The second would require the library to be closed and relocated once for 52 weeks, costing an estimated $14.4 million. Trustee Bob Pam said that he didn’t see any value in pursuing the first option.
Option 2 consists of two phases. The first phase would address all interior work including replacement of the atrium skylight and south elevator, replacement and repair of mechanical/electrical/plumbing systems, interior finishes like carpeting and paint, and structural and accessibility improvements. The total cost for the interior work is estimated at $12.1 million, including design and relocation costs, based on work beginning in 2022.
The second phase would address the exterior of the building (stone facade, windows, trim, etc.) and could be undertaken after the library is reopened. KRA estimated the cost at $2.26 million, based on a 2024 start date.
Questions came predominantly from Trustee President Austin Sarat and Alex Lefebvre, who pushed Tierney to acknowledge that costs would be higher if they were to pursue more lofty accessibility and energy goals rather than apply “a compliance approach” to meet legal requirements. Sarat said, “the Town can choose to go the route that Kuhn Riddle has highlighted for us, with all of its complications, or it can choose to invest not much more money in a library that is renovated and expanded.”
Sarat did not elaborate on his assertion that the expansion project would be “not much more” than the new lower-cost proposal, but an analysis of cost estimates, including debt repayments, suggests that the cost difference to the Town could be as much as $19 million.
The expansion project estimate of $35.6 million was based on a construction start date of July 2019. Since construction costs typically escalate at least 4% per year, if construction was to begin in July 2022, the project cost would likely be closer to $40 million. After deducting the $13.7 million state grant, the Town would have to commit to an amount close to $26 million. In addition, there have been significant changes to the design since the original estimate was produced in 2016, and separately, Finegold Alexander Architects were commissioned this year to define new sustainability goals for the project and estimate the cost of meeting those goals. (Their report was due in mid-April but has not yet been released.) Costs for design changes and sustainability efforts have not yet been added to the estimate.
Although construction costs increase steadily, the amount of the state grant is likely to remain fixed at $13.7 million. Library Director Sharon Sharry said there is a possibility of receiving some additional funds from the MBLC but that would not be known for some time. (The MBLC has reported that two other libraries will receive an extra $200,000 this year out of unallocated funds.)
To compare the true cost of the alternatives, the Indy used a debt service calculator from the state’s website, calculating debt service on a 30-year loan at 4% interest. If the cost to the Town (after deducting the state grant and including debt repayment) of the renovation/expansion is approximately $42.1 million ($26 million plus an estimated $16.1 million in debt service/interest) and the cost of the repair/renovation option is $23.4 million ($14.4 million plus an estimated $9 million in debt service/interest) then the cost differential would be approximately $18.7 million* over the life of the loan.
Last week the Indy outlined the constraints on available cash capital to repay debt for large capital projects, noting that the Town has said they need to allocate 10% of property tax revenues each year to be able to service debt. This year, that allocation was cut to 5%.
In presenting the expansion project to Town officials, the Library Director and Trustees have said they hope to raise $6 million in private donations and historic tax credits, although the town would have to guarantee the full cost in case the private fund drive falls short. Information on the likelihood of receiving, and being able to transfer, historic rehabilitation tax credits has not been presented, nor have any figures on private donations raised to date. (Since the Jones is not an income-producing property, if the project qualified for historic rehabilitation tax credits, they would need to transfer/sell the state tax credits to a tax-paying entity with an eligible project. The Massachusetts Historical Commission is the state body that certifies the projects and allocates available credits.)
An application by the Jones for $1 million in Community Preservation Act (CPA) funding is currently being debated after some members of the CPA Committee learned it may not be allowable to use historic preservation funds to construct a new space for Special Collections. Trustees have indicated their intention to count the CPA funds as part of the private fundraising, however, the Town Finance Department contends that CPA funds would be considered part of the Town’s portion of the project.
If the Town decided to pursue the renovation outlined by KRA, they would have to forgo the MBLC grant. However, CPA funds, historic tax credits, and private fundraising might lower the cost to the Town.
At the Trustees meeting, Bob Pam tried to ask Tierney how the current pandemic might affect library design and how they could develop the renovation plan with that in mind, but he was interrupted by Sarat who cautioned Tierney that she should only answer if she had been studying library design post-COVID. Tierney acknowledged she did not have an answer right now on how the pandemic will impact future design.
To date, there has been no indication that the MBLC will permit changes to the original (pre-COVID) renovation/expansion design to adapt to new public health standards.
Tierney will present the repair/renovation report to the Town Council on July 13th from 6-7pm. The meeting will be broadcast at this Zoom link and on channel 17.
* These figures exclude potential private fundraising, historic tax credits, and CPA funds. They also exclude cost increases due to design changes in the expansion project, and any premium for meeting sustainability goals.