Seven Million Dollars In Capital Improvements Planned For FY 2022

Munson Memorial Library in Amherst. Photo: Art Keene

Allocation Will Include Over $1M For Road And Sidewalk Repairs Though Backlog Estimated To Be $22

Seven million dollars in spending on capital improvements have been recommended by the Joint Capital Planning Committee (JCPC) to the Town Manager. The JCPC, composed of three Town Councilors and two members each from the School Committee and the Jones Library Board of Trustees, recommended the capital improvement plan proposed to them by the Manager in February with a few suggested modifications.

The total cash available for capital projects this year is $5,427,671, after accounting for existing debt. This comprises 8.5% of the property tax levy, unspent capital reserves from last year, and State Chapter 90 funds for road improvements. In addition, $1.6 million of new borrowing is proposed, bringing the total spending to about $7 million. Capital requests from departments, which were funneled through the Town Manager before being submitted to the JCPC, nearly equaled available funds.

The suggested modifications included increasing a new Sustainability Fund line from the proposed $50,000 to $100,000, and potentially removing $450,000 for design of the North Amherst intersection from the plan, unless keeping that money in the budget will increase  the likelihood of receiving a state grant for the construction. Other suggestions were to seek out hybrid vehicles when possible and to look at reducing investments in technology. Many computers were purchased using federal COVID relief funds which may allow that budget to be reduced, and some departments have funds remaining from previous allocations. 

Largest Allocation Goes To Public Works
The largest portion of the $7 million in capital spending is for public works, totaling $2.5 million. This includes $850,000 of town funds for road repairs and a similar amount from the state, and $200,000 for sidewalk repairs. In future years, amounts allocated to road and sidewalk repairs will be reduced as more capital funds will be needed to repay debt on the four major capital projects (Jones Library expansion, elementary school, fire station, and public works facility). Public Works Superintendent Guilford Mooring recently told the committee that the backlog in road repairs is estimated at $22 million.

Recommended vehicle purchases totaled $1.7 million, including a new pumper truck to replace a 1999 model, four police cruisers, a school bus, two special education vans, five trucks, and a street sweeper. 

New HVAC System For Munson Library
A long-planned project to replace the heating ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) system at the Munson Memorial building was given the green light with an additional $30,000 to supplement existing funds. In addition, the committee encouraged the Town Manager to allocate a further $30,000 from existing maintenance funds so that insulation and ceiling fans could be added to the building. (See this Indy article from last year about the Munson.) Facilities Manager Jeremiah Laplante told the committee that the 275-gallon oil tank at the Munson is refilled every three weeks, even though the building is mostly empty and he keeps the temperature in the mid-50s.

School Repairs
Requests for the elementary schools totaled $1.2 million, the bulk for roof repairs, HVAC system updates, and computers. Councilor Mandi Jo Hanneke noted that the schools had significant funds remaining from previous allocations and encouraged the school department to use those up first. (See here and here for Indy articles about unspent capital funds.) The provision of information on unspent funds from appropriations that were at least three years old was new to this year’s JCPC process.

One other new addition this year to the draft plan from the Town Manager was a list of pending projects not yet slotted into the five-year plan either due to insufficient funding and/or because additional planning is needed (see page 21 of the draft report here). The committee omitted the list from their report to the Town Manager and instead recommended it be revised to organize projects into categories: 1) “shovel ready,” if a grant is secured; 2) projects that have been discussed and are a priority; and 3) future projects that require fuller development and analysis.

One item on the list – improvements to Crocker Farm, estimated at $9.2 – $27.2 million — garnered significant opposition from School Committee member Peter Demling. Demling said he was not opposed to improving Crocker Farm per se but since the School Committee had not yet discussed it, he felt it was premature to be included in a report. (The Crocker Farm Feasibility Study report was presented to the Town Council and School Committee last July. At the request of School Committee member Ben Herrington, Crocker Farm’s long term capital needs will be discussed at an upcoming School Committee meeting on May 11.)

Requests for the Facilities department amounted to $785,000 for improvements to town buildings. This included $400,000 for a new HVAC “chiller” and $25,000 for replacing built-in cabinetry at the police station. Demling commented that the cabinetry seemed a lower priority repair than many needs at the schools.

Not included in the JCPC report are capital investments in buildings or equipment that are funded outside of the town’s capital budget (i.e., the enterprise funds supporting the water and sewer systems) as wall as projects that are funded through the Community Preservation Act. The Committee recommended that the Town Manager consider ways to include those investments in his final plan for a more comprehensive summary of capital improvements across all funding sources. In addition, they recommended that he highlight the trade-offs needed to fund debt on the major capital projects over the next five years. 

The Town Manager must present his budget, including the Capital Improvement Plan, to the Town Council by May 1.

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6 thoughts on “Seven Million Dollars In Capital Improvements Planned For FY 2022

  1. I hope the new HVAC systems at the Munson Library and other town buildings will be fossil fuel free systems such as minisplits or heat pumps. These are being used for large apartment buildings now being constructed in town and for the proposed Jones Library construction, so should be applicable to these projects.

  2. Maura – yes, the new HVAC system at the Munson is slated to be an electric full variable refrigerant flow (VRF) ductless system, estimated at $110-120K.
    Laplant also looked at a full VRF for the police station, estimated at $800-900K, but because of the amount of work that would be needed for installation, he recommended going with a chiller with a heat pump (enabling simultaneous heating and cooling) instead. He did recommend they look at solar for the roof of the police station to offset the cost. (IIRC, the Munson roof was not considered suitable for solar.)
    For anyone that wants to geek out on the details, Jeremiah explained it all at the March 18th JCPC meeting.
    Starts about 38 minutes for the police station: https://youtu.be/dHOOU6m7nqs?t=2290
    And about 48:30 for the Munson: https://youtu.be/dHOOU6m7nqs?t=2914

  3. Shocking to find that basics like safe sidewalks and road repairs come AFTER the 3 major projects and may never make the list of “to be done”. I moved from East Amherst into Town 7 years ago expecting to WALK to movies, restaurants, the library and Bangs Center. Having fallen on the dangerously unsafe sidewalk on the south side of Amity St.(from So.Prospect to Dana). I now use a car to travel 8 blocks, polluting our air, and taking up precious in Town parking space. I’ve requested repairs for 7 years— to no avail. Now, I learn that sidewalk repair is unlikely in the future. I would think safety is a first priority in any town that wants to attract pedestrians to its businesses and public facilities. Shame on Amherst Government for responding to the many calls for projects without having established priorities for health and safety first and having an order of priority for all other municipal needs.

  4. Yay Anne👏🏻👏🏻 I couldn’t agree more.
    But, shame on us who believe that we should live within our means as a strong and cohesive community prioritizing the basics for public support like: an infrastructure in good repair, affordable housing and a quality education for our children. After all, it’s the bells and whistles that attract others to “visit” the place we call home, right? Too bad “they” don’t pay the taxes (nor will their visits) …never have and never will.
    Perhaps it’s time to support everyday Amherst (many employees, including department heads making the most and the money decisions, like library director, don’t even live in town) and ask them what they can afford.
    Less can actually mean more.

  5. Please don’t knock our town down. You are absolutely right, sidewalks are important, but if there is anything to be learned about this past 13 months, fresh air is also important so new HVAC systems should be counted as important for health and safety as well as the navigability of sidewalks. Please don’t knock the town down because they can’t get all the sidewalks first. The cost of repairs have continued to climb as our backlog for streets and sidewalks exceeds $22 million dollars at this point. Even if we put the entire $7 million capital improvement funds towards just streets we still can’t get them all done. Ask the dpw what it cost them for the material today versus 10 years ago, and you might be surprised at the increase in material cost, not to mention cost of labor.

    Our town is slightly imperfect, but so is every town.

    Let’s keep in mind that our largest customer base is not from Amherst, as academia attracts North of 20,000 out of towners every year and then each of them bring, an estimated, 2+ guests at least once a year. Those dollars circulate in our community and become tax revenue in some manner, so being attractive to our citizens, and our guests, is very important.

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