Jones Library Trustees Ponder Improvements To North Amherst Branch

Architects rendering of a proposed addition to the North Amherst Library. A project to repair walls prior to renovation drew several public speakers at the CPAC public hearing on 11/12/20 Photo: amherstma.gov

Report on the Meeting of the Jones Library Trustees, March 16, 2021

The meeting was held via Zoom.

Participating: All library trustees, and  George Hicks-Richards (Library Facilities Director, filling in for Library Director Sharon Sharry, who was on bereavement leave.

North Amherst Library
The trustees discussed the proposed addition to the North Amherst Library, which will be funded by a gift from an anonymous donor. Their concerns were:
* who will maintain the proposed landscaping?
* has the present group of garden volunteers been consulted? (apparently not),
* will the building be net-zero energy? (it will be net-zero-ready)
will funds for the entire project be available, keeping in mind that it is only funded now through the design process?

The appointed advisory group has had no updates since their meeting on January 15. The trustees indicated that the Jones Library will not be responsible for maintaining the new community room at the North Amherst branch.

The existing library was converted to LED lighting five years ago and new insulation was installed about ten years ago. Any solar panels will be off-site. Trustees are concerned that with improvements, the 30 percent of assessed value threshold will be exceeded, and would mean  that th entire building would have to  be handicap accessible. They expressed concerns about how that will impact library activities and about how much space will be lost? Will the library be granted variances from these requirements, they wanted to know. What impact will the period of construction have on library services, they asked. They also asked: What is the timing of the project? Will the addition require more staffing?

Trustees’ President Austin Sarat asked whether there is a building committee, in addition to the advisory committee? If not, who from the Jones will be on the building committee? Trustee Tamson  Ely announced that North Amherst would like a Board of Trustees like that of the Munson Library. Trustee Alex Lefebvre announced that the plan is to begin the construction bidding process in June or July. Both the Munson and North Amherst Libraries are owned by the Town.

MOU On Funding Commitment To Town
Sarat reported that he had met with town representatives to begin negotiating a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) regarding responsibilities of each party relating to a guarantee for the Jones library’s pledge of $6.7M to be put toward its demolition and expansion project. One lawyer, who does not consider it to be a conflict of interest, will represent both parties. The goal is to have a draft available for the trustees to consider on or before their March 30 meeting for their presentation the same week (April 5) to the Town Council.

Challenges To Reopening
The library director has been on bereavement leave for a week and it is not known when she will return. The FY22 budget document needs to be completed. 

Recently, George Hicks-Richards, Jones’ Facilities Director has taken charge of some issues related to the efficacy of rehabbing the existing building versus building new, as well as requirements for reopening the facility to the public.

As air quality and air circulation have been below required standards (six air changes/hour for public spaces, ten changes/hour for bathrooms) since 1993, an engineer from LABCO Air and Water Balancinghas examined the state of the existing system. He found that the system installed in 1993 was poorly designed and is now in poor condition. 

Some parts of the system could be made sufficiently workable to re-open the library safely, but at great expense. This would not be a prudent temporary stop-gap measure advised Hicks-Richards who is also investigating portable HEPA filters, which are being used by the schools and can be paid for with CARES Act funds. The filters would belong to the town. 

Trustees asked  whether, after the library reopens, the public could be restricted to certain rooms with good air quality,, whether the HEPA filters could be leased, whether rooms with high ceilings (like the atrium and adult fiction rooms) could “ever” have adequate air quality, whether it might be useful to  open some windows. (Hicks-Richards told them that windows in the library can only be opened if there is adequate exhaust because a draft would just move more bad air across the patrons’ faces.) 

Fundraising
Lastly, as of last December 31, the Friends of Jones Library had raised $85,000 toward the operating budget, with a similar amount projected for June 30. The endowment is worth about $9M now, with only a 4 percent draw projected for its FY22 operating budget. 

$1,107,850 has been pledged for the proposed construction project, with 44 donations of less than $5,000 and 10 greater than $5,000, all to be paid within five years.

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