Major Discrepancies Emerge In Library Project Timeline

Jones Library Building Committee meeting

Architects rendering of the proposed renovated Jones Library. Finegold Alexander Architects. Photo: Jones Library

A project timeline for the Jones Library renovation and expansion that was sent to the library’s email list on April 10, and subsequently presented by Library Director Sharon Sharry to the Board of Trustees on April 13, contradicts information provided to the Town Council prior to their vote authorizing borrowing $36.3 million for the project.

The timeline, dated January 14, 2021, but not previously provided to the Town Council or the public, shows construction beginning in September 2022, which is 6 months later than was projected in documentation presented to the Finance Committee as they evaluated the project. In addition, the timeline shows construction completion in August 2024 — 11 months later than previously advised (see timeline page 29 here). This would mean the alternative library site would be needed for two years — months longer than was claimed and budgeted. Project “closeout,” when a certificate of occupancy would be issued and the library could reopen to the public, is now scheduled for October 2024, a year later than previously projected. 

Jones Library expansion and renovation timeline dated 1/14/21 and included in the email above . Photo: Jones Library
Project timeline presented to the Library Trustees on 4/13/21. Photo: Jones Library

The $36.3 million project cost was based on a construction start of March 2022, and at no point during the Finance Committee’s review did any member of the  library team indicate the start date had been pushed back to September, or that the project duration extended into the fall of 2024. In the information provided to the Council, library representatives said, “the total project budget…reflects approval of the project by the Town Council in April of 2021 which would likely mean a construction start date in March of 2022. The Owner’s Project Manager (OPM) has confirmed that the library project can be completed within the $36.3M budget if we proceed with the project with an April 2021 vote to accept the MBLC grant.”

According to the email from the library, every year’s delay adds approximately $1.6 million in construction escalation costs, so a six month delay to the start of construction would add approximately $800,000 to the project cost. It is unclear how much more the project cost would be affected by the longer construction duration. 

During discussions with the Finance Committee, the OPM, Ken Guyette, and the architect, Jim Alexander, both agreed that the budget was fixed at $36.3 million, and if costs increased, they would consider “adjustments” during the design development phase in order to keep within the budget. For example, Alexander said one such adjustment could be employing aluminium instead of wood windows. Concerns were raised by members of the public and by Councilor Cathy Schoen that energy conservation features may be at risk of being cut as contingencies had already been reduced significantly.

The question was also asked at the Finance Committee meetings whether a second independent cost estimate would be performed, as was promised, since the schematic design phase was complete. Several questions regarding the budget remained, such as whether contingencies were adequate, what specific HVAC and energy efficiency measures were included, and at what cost. Contrary to the process described in the information provided to the committee (“At the end of each of these phases a cost estimate is done by the Design Team and a second separate cost estimate is completed by the OPM Team”), Guyette responded that the next cost estimate would not be until after the design development phase. According to the newly-public timeline, that won’t be until June 2022.

The Indy emailed Sharry asking why the timeline differs from what was presented to the Council, and if she expected the library to be closed for two years, but did not receive a response by press time.

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15 thoughts on “Major Discrepancies Emerge In Library Project Timeline

  1. There is also a major discrepancy in the project drawings/renderings shown here. If you were working with a builder to construct a new house based on renderings that included your neighbor’s yard and your neighbor’s garden and trees that would need to be removed to build the house, it would be considered ‘false advertising.” This rendering of the Jones Library project includes the yard and an 18th Century Garden that belongs to the Amherst Historical Society next door. The tall trees behind the Jones Library in this rendering would not survive the extensive demolition required and the destruction of the Kinsey Garden for the expansion of the Jones building has been glossed over. Amherst residents would be wise to question why Jones Library Trustees needed to hire a PR Marketing firm to sell the Jones Library Project to the public and why these deceptive renderings are being used at all.

  2. If you were working with a builder to design a house, you would likely go through several iterations of design. Each iteration would be closer to what the build would actually look like, and there would be changes made based upon costs, improvements, “fit”, etc. This is all part of the design process, and is certainly the case with the Jones.
    Ms. Matthews-Nillson is mis-characterizing the design process as being static, which it is not. The design evolves and improves throughout the process, constrained by the overall budget approved by the Town with an overwhelming majority of Counselors.
    As a 25 year+ Amherst resident and donor to the capital campaign, I would urge readers to visit the Library website and the Friends of the Library web page to learn more about this great project and the positive impact it will have on thousands of residents each year.

  3. No. Whatever some might think, “the schematic design phase is” not “complete.”

    The Jones Library is on the Massachusetts Register of Historic Places. Both timelines omit what’s still needed for the legally-mandated review of this proposed project’s schematic designs by the Massachusetts Historical Commission (MHC), and the subsequent MHC consultations.

    The MHC process is likely to result in changes that require still more time, and still more money, for the architects to revise the schematic designs — yet again. Why? Because the Trustees “must adopt all prudent and feasible means to eliminate, minimize, or mitigate adverse effects” on this State Register property. See Title 950 [Protection of Properties Included in the State Register of Historic Places], Code of Mass. Regulations, §71.02.

    Spoiler alert: “Adverse effects” include demolishing interior as well as exterior parts of the historic 1928 Jones Library. Interestingly, the law provides for the public’s input to the MHC about ways to “eliminate, minimize, and mitigate” the proposed project’s “adverse effects.”

    For compliance with the historic preservation law, accordingly, any schedule for this proposed demolition/construction project must add still more time before that wrecking ball starts to swing.

  4. With all due respect to Ms. McKee, the time period when the Jones was not in compliance with MHC commenced during Ms. McKee and her cohort’s tenure as Trustees.

    This renovation project will be fully compliant with all local and state historic standards.

  5. Mr. Blumenfeld’s first statement above has no basis in fact. How accurate his second might be yet remains to be seen.

    My tenure as a Trustee of the Jones Library began early in March 2009. It ended early in March 2012.

    The Trustees’ legal obligation to submit their demolition/expansion plans to the Massachusetts Historical Commission (MHC) began more than 4 years thereafter, in 2016. That’s when the Trustees signed a contract with the MBLC for a Planning & Design grant. To qualify for this state funding, the Trustees legally obligated themselves to:

    “comply with Mass. General Laws, chapter 9, §§ 26 and 27C and Title 950, Code of Mass. Regulations, Section 71.00: Protection of Properties Included in the State Register of Historical [sic] Places and any additional Massachusetts Historical Commission legal and regulatory requirements, including that which affords the Massachusetts Historical Commissioner the opportunity to review and comment as early as possible in the planning stages of the project;….”

    That unambiguous requirement to provide their proposed project’s plans to the MHC “as early as possible in the planning stages” is a quotation from Title 605, Code of Mass. Regulations (“Library Improvement Program – Public Library Construction”), Section 6.05 (2)(c)(13).

    In a letter to Town Manager Paul Bockelman, dated December 23, 2016, with ccs to Library Director Sharon Sharry, the Save Our Library group, and others, the MHC told Mr. Bockelman with specificity what it required, and why:

    “At this time, the MHC is unable to determine what effect the proposed project will have on the historic property and district listed above. The MHC requests the following information in a hard-copy format. The MHC requires complete photographic coverage of proposed work locations on the exterior and interior of the library, keyed to sketch maps or floor plans. Please provide a detailed project description along with an indication of what exterior and interior sections of the building will be removed and whether they will be stored for future reuse. Please provide existing and proposed perspective illustrations of the project, keyed to a sketch map.”

    Nonetheless, the Town and Trustees simply blew off this specification of what the MHC required. In January 2017, without complying, they submitted to the MBLC their application for a demolition & construction grant of some $13.8 million. Their application in effect concealed that they were flouting the Massachusetts historic preservation law.

    It did this by affirmatively representing that the Jones Library was NOT on either the State Register of Historic Places, or on the National Register. See Application, p. 9. The Library is actually on both Registers. So those representations to the MBLC were materially false. Yet the Library Director and each Trustee swore to the application’s contents. So did Town Manager Bockelman.

    Fast forward to the apparently imminent MBLC demolition & construction grant. The MBLC regulations for this second grant require the Town and Trustees to give the very same assurances as for their Planning & Design grant, that they will comply with the Massachusetts historic preservation law. See Title 605, CMR, § 6.05 (2)(d)(21).

    Yet Town and Trustees are evidently still blowing off the MHC. How do I know? From that same MHC letter dated December 23, 2016.

    It requests that copies of the specific demolition data that the MHC requires be submitted also to the Amherst Historical Commission, to the Save Our Library group, and to myself individually. More than 4 years later, I have not received a thing.

  6. Mr. Blumenfeld’s statement that in the design process “each iteration would be closer to what the build would actually look like” is not true in the case of the Jones Library project. A 2017 rendering of the project showed only a few sparse trees, which is much closer to reality than the 2021 iteration, showing large trees behind the building and the expansive lawn and garden of its neighbor, the Amherst History Museum. I, unlike Mr. Blumenfeld who heads the PR marketing firm hired by Library Trustees to market this project to residents, will not receive any financial gain whether this project goes forward or not. Residents are urged to read more about the Jones Library project on the website:

  7. Ms. Matthews-Nillsen continues to misrepresent the facts with respect to the Jones design and her consistent dog whistles questioning motivations grow ever more tiresome, and in my opinion are approaching a violation of civil rights. Those interested in learning about the Library’s plans, including those for grounds and plantings, should visit the Jones website:

    Yet again, let me state that as a long term Amherst resident, I have proudly supported this project since its inception. So has my family. So have the vast majority of our friends. Our firm, FDA, has worked for the Jones for a long time, helping to develop events, the annual fund and the capital campaign to help bring the renovation and expansion to our community. We have done this work because we believe that the Jones is vital to our community’s future and we have seen how improvements to library buildings have had incredible, positive impacts on so many other towns in the Commonwealth and beyond.

    I do not question Ms. Matthews-Nilsen’s right to disagree with the project. She should not question my right to support it.

  8. Mr. Blumenfeld’s accusation that my pointing out that he is the head of the PR marketing firm hired by Library Trustees to market the Jones project is “approaching a violation of civil rights” is ludicrous. It is Mr. Blumenfeld’s use of marketing tactics that employ “dog whistles” and the use of “civil rights” in this instance, is one of the more specious ones. Other dog whistles used by Mr. Blumenfeld in his marketing of the demolition-expansion of Jones Library includes the use of the term “sustainable” (which this demolition project is not), or a matter of “social justice”(which this project is not). In addition, Mr. Blumenfeld has described those who oppose this project using twin dog whistles of “elitist” and “privileged,” when many in Town who support a Jones renovation instead of demolition are concerned about the wastefulness of demolishing an ADA compliant, 27 year-old brick addition with a metal roof that has a 50 year life span. Isn’t it more of an elitist and privileged perspective to be this wasteful at a time when our Town budget is reeling from the pandemic and three other Capital projects, notably our schools, will be negatively impacted if we overspend on this extravagant library expansion?

  9. The Jones project is completely about social justice. It will expand opportunities for everyone; in particular for New Americans and those whose first language is not English, for children, youth, and families with young children, for seniors who want a place to relax and meet their neighbors or engage in a cultural program for free, for those without high speed internet access at home, for those who do not have a computer and who need to communicate via the internet to apply for a job or social services, prepare a college application, or to complete school or work assignments. It will provide welcoming and productive spaces for those who want a comfortable place to read and learn, for those seeking to gain new skills or to start a business but who cannot afford office space, for those seeking a place to meet and discuss the issues that are important to them, for those with limitations to their mobility. The Jones struggles to accomplish this within a building that all agree is in need of improvement. This project is most definitely about social justice and building Amherst’s capacity to be a compassionate, welcoming and successful community for all…

  10. Hmmm, given your list Matthew, perhaps the Jones Library should receive support to hire a space planner, follow its vetted suggestions, and upgrade what has been left to deteriorate (all for far less than the close to $40 million) and let a Library be a library, and the best Library it can be. I truly don’t believe we should equate bigger to better. (I have personally witnessed bureaucracies intentionally create more in response to progress resulting in the need for less. ). Then, the town (which should be as much about social justice as any other kind) could, with appropriate tax payer support, open a Community Center in another “town owned” structure (e.g., Wildwood School, an enhanced Bangs Center, or even ask St Brigid’s to donate their rarely used-parish center).
    Among other things, that would lessen the burden on library employees to: watch the kids or others others not there for “library” resources, divert the refreshment and souvenir business from those already downtown, mitigate the likely parking issue and shutdown time et al…
    Unfortunately though, as someone recently told me “fiscal responsibility doesn’t play as well as a cornerstone with someone’s name on it.”

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