School Ranked Top Priority In Building Project Survey; Fire Station, DPW And Library Follow

Speak Up! Rank Amherst's Building Projects - Results and Comments

Results of Speak Up! Rank Amherst’s Building Projects survey

Three weeks ago Amherst Indy readers were invited to rank Amherst’s four planned building projects — a new DPW facility, a South Amherst fire station, a renovation and expansion of the Jones Library, and an elementary school replacement.  114 people responded, with more than forty readers also submitting comments.

If we assign 3 points for a first place ranking, 2 points for a second place ranking, 1 point for a third place ranking and 0 points for fourth place, we can calculate an aggregate score for each project.  The results were:

  1. New Elementary School – 253 points
  2. New South Amherst Fire Station – 220 points
  3. New Dept. of Public Works Facility – 136 points
  4. Jones Library Renovation/Expansion – 75 points

A table summarizing the scoring calculation follows:

PlaceSchoolFire StationDPWLibrary
1 (3 pts per vote)6037611
2 (2 pts per vote)24393516
3 (1 pt per vote)25314810
4 (0 pts per vote)572577
Score25322013675

Graphically the scoring looks like this:

Readers submitted 42 comments, reprinted below.  Most comments demonstrate that respondents have given serious thought to the pros and cons of the four building projects, and how they will impact the town.

Comments are grouped by the commenter’s ranking order. You can use these links to jump to a particular section.

Comments from readers who ranked a new DPW Facility first (2 comments)

Comments from readers who ranked a new South Amherst Fire Station first (14 comments)

Comments from readers who ranked the Jones Library Renovation/Expansion first (5 comments)

Comments from readers who ranked a new Elementary School first (21 comments)


Comments from readers who ranked a new DPW Facility first

  • DPW – Fire Station – School – Library

Here are my priorities:
   Dept of Public Works building replacing 100 year old building
   New Fire Station
   Do not want a combined Elementary School

Definitely do NOT support Jones Library demolition/renovation.

People living in Amherst already pay enough taxes without piling on more. What happened to frugal New England spending? Makes more sense to do one project at a time. certainly not 4. And beyond fiscally irresponsible to demolish a perfectly good section of the library only recently paid for.

  • DPW – Fire Station – School – Library

I list the Public Works first only by the appearance of the building as far as the public sees it — Pretty shabby.

I list the library last by the pleasing environment when I enter. Also because of the shift to digital from paper which makes physical library spaces less needed. Repair and improve yes but more space no.

It is not fair to put these decisions onto the general public. I have not been inside an Amherst Public School or had a child enrolled for 25 years.

Not living in South Amherst I have absolutely no notion of how they are served in case of fire. Finally, putting the override only on the school project panders to the notion that schools are more popular than fire stations. If the school is the only project then no override is needed.

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Comments from readers who ranked a new South Amherst Fire Station first

  • Fire Station – DPW – Library – School

When funding capital projects whose assets are expected to be in service for many decades, prudence and equity demand spreading the cost over the expected service interval by responsibly borrowing – usually by issuing municipal bonds of 30, 40, 50 year, and sometimes even longer terms.  If the roughly $100M in new bonds would exceed Amherst’s current borrowing capacity, then, rather than inequitably burdening current residents with a tax override, instead the scale of the projects must be significantly reduced (starting with the Jones Library demolition/expansion (“renovation” is a cynical euphemism for what’s really proposed: demolition of all but the façade….)

  • Fire Station – DPW – Library – School

How in the world can I rank proposed Amherst building projects with the information at hand? Essentially these projects should have been ranked already in a Capital Improvements Program developed by the Planning Board and readily available to the public. Included in a Capital Improvements Program should be 1) the cost of each project (given above), 2) how it is to be financed, 3) how it will effect the property [tax] rate, and 4) the degree of urgency for each project.

What we have seen is an unprecedented public relations campaign in support of the Jones Library project. From no other Town entity have I received such a multitude of emails hawking the benefits of the project. The Library, unique among Town departments, has our email and can campaign online. It has a built-in constituency. Try to image a campaign for the Department of Public Works facility.

  • Fire Station – DPW – School – Library

All projects must rethink its purpose and method of building with the overwhelming reality of looming climate change. First must be an effort of the most serious thought about how to reuse the buildings we have.

  • Fire Station – DPW – School – Library

Public Safety has been placed on the back burner for way too long. It has been ignored by numerous Town Managers and has unfortunately been baseline for the Town of Amherst. We cannot ignore our fire responders any longer. Firefighter/Paramedics living in dismal conditions is not okay. We all know with great certainty that if that was the condition of Town Hall with the all the higher ups it would be fixed immediately.

DPW is deserves a new home. Where they currently are is a fraction of the size of what they need. They are the backbone to keep the town look as great as it does. Let’s get them the facility they need to keep the great employees well taken care of and the investments like large trucks, safe and protected when to being in use.

  • Fire Station – DPW – School – Library

Couldn’t drag the pink project labels. Would put library last.

  • Fire Station – DPW – School – Library

The town should consider the effects of building and demolition on climate. Reuse of existing buildings should be first priority.

  • Fire Station – School – DPW – Library

Lack of a South Amherst fire station is a public safety issue.

Fort River and Wildwood Elementary Schools have an outdated classroom configuration and ventilation issues. A decline in enrollment in recent years makes consolidation feasible.

The DPW is operating out of a 1916 trolley barn and warrants an updated facility.

The Jones Library expansion is too large and costly and comes at a time when there are more pressing needs for Amherst’s tax dollars.

  • Fire Station – School – DPW – Library

Our firefighters are working under intolerable conditions – short staffed, with aging failing equipment and housed in a facility that cannot provide safety and meet basic needs.   Failure to address these needs endangers our fire fighters and by extension all Amherst residents.  This is now taking on emergency status and should be the top funding priority in the capital budget.

Also – there are other capital needs that are not addressed in this poll – e.g.  a senior center,   a homeless shelter, athletic fields,  sidewalks and roads and more.  It would nice to have a chance to rank a comprehensive menu of such projects and one wonders why capital planning is being approached piecemeal rather than comprehensively.

  • Fire Station – School – DPW – Library

Fire station should be top priority!

  • Fire Station – School – DPW – Library

I only wish I could rank the Library project even lower!

  • Fire Station – School – DPW – Library

There clearly needs to be a fire station in South Amherst. Central Amherst is clogged with traffic and most of the calls send trucks in the South Amherst direction. The elementary school issue has just gotten worse since the last plan was turned down, and the expense of maintaining the current Wildwood and Fort River is out of hand. DPW needs better facilities. The Jones library needs renovation, but the current plan is far too expensive, and claims of its needed social programs belie the fact that taxes and housing problems in this town price its intended recipients out of living here anyway.  Middle income families are the ones who need attention in terms of housing, and student apartments are certainly part of the problem here.

  • Fire Station – School – DPW – Library

Fix the roads in Amherst
No, no on Library Expansion

  • Fire Station – School – DPW – Library

Net cost ~ $100 milion = 10^8
Amherst population ~ 10 thousand households = 10^4
Thus net cost/household ~ 10^8/10^4 = 10^{8-4} = $10 thousand (assuming interest rates remain low) and almost surely (much) more!

  • Fire Station – School – Library – DPW

The school and library are grossly overpriced.

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Comments from readers who ranked the Jones Library Renovation/Expansion first

  • Library – Fire Station – DPW – School

Ranking these projects is a misleading approach for assessing public support. If I choose to put the library at the bottom of the list, it does NOT mean that I am opposed to the library project.  “Speak Up ” should be designed to determine how strongly we support or oppose these projects–each standing by itself. Assessing opinions this way is a waste of our time.

  • Library – School – DPW – Fire Station

Very misleading not to show the net cost to the town. We will get tens of millions of $$ for the library and schools project.

  • Library – School – Fire Station– DPW

Access to education, enrichment, community building, culture, these are the things that should be our first priority. An expanded and improved library will be a source of pride for the town. It will be an equalizer, providing resources for the least among us. It will attract people and improve property values.

We need a new school. We have needed it for years. Children are precious and must be provided for.

  • Library – School – Fire Station– DPW

These are all equally important municipal projects.

  • Library – School – Fire Station– DPW

The drag function isn’t working for me, so here is my order:
1. (Most important) Jones Library project
2. New elementary school
3. New fire station
4. New Public Works building

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Comments from readers who ranked a new Elementary School first

  • School – DPW – Fire Station – Library

Just my rankings

  • School – DPW – Fire Station – Library

DPW  higher because it has to be given a new location in order to use site for fire building

  • School – DPW – Fire Station – Library

I do not support the current Jones Library Plan, period.  And, as I understand it, a new DPW Facility must be built elsewhere to allow a new South Fire Station to be built in its place at 586 South Pleasant Street (the unanimously agreed upon best location for a new fire station).

  • School – DPW – Fire Station – Library

We need to live within our means, and keep taxes affordable – it’s not a solution to sell our downtown to developers who will destroy the place we go to socialize, eat, shop, by building the dorms that UMass should be constructing on campus.

  • School – DPW – Fire Station – Library

How is it not obvious that schools, infrastructure and public safety should always be priorities for tax dollars?

Although I would rather see the 80M for the school shared to renovate Wildwood and Fort River Schools, I believe that addressing the conditions of these schools must be first priority. 

On the other hand, it seems ludicrous to me that the Jones Library, which the Town does not even own, would warrant such extravagance.  Nothing has been done, despite many suggestions and requests, to price out a plan for an update versus one to demolish and expand.  This in a town with  5 other libraries and in an age where, because of technology, less space is needed.

  • School – DPW – Fire Station – Library

I agree with Art Keene’s post in the 9/25 Indy that real attention to social justice projects in town requires a smaller spending on the Jones, as important as the library is for the town.

  • School – DPW – Fire Station – Library

Just my opinion.

  • School – DPW – Fire Station – Library

School: Democracy depends upon a well-educated citizenry.  Amherst no longer has the reputation for best quality public education that it once did.  Our elementary school is of first importance.  There was once a time that families were so eager to move to the Amherst School district that they paid higher prices to live in Amherst. 

Public Works and Fire Station: Our Health and Safety (I.e.roads, sidewalks, water quality, sewage, garbage) come before the pleasures of social spaces in a library..

Library: scale back the plan. No one moves to a town because it has a library/community center.  We have a great library. Repair and enlarge slightly. If we wanted to attract a larger Elderly population as many college towns benefit from (larger tax base, using fewer public services) better to Renovate a Senior Center/Community Center. And, unlike other Towns, we have the privilege of access to 3 College libraries.

  • School – DPW – Fire Station – Library

The school should come first. Mold, poor lighting, and open classrooms have been tolerated for too many years. The health of children and staff should be a priority.

The Senior Center has NEVER been upgraded and the space is woefully inadequate. A new Senior Center should come before the Library with the library at the bottom of the list.

  • School – Fire Station – DPW – Library

Totally against Jones Library project as designed. I am not against a renovation there.

  • School – Fire Station – DPW – Library

We do not need a library.   Stop dumping the excessive tax burden on homeowners.

  • School – Fire Station – DPW – Library

I just want to note that the figures listed here are all theoretical. The library is closest to reality but we know the cost of the renovation and expansion of the Jones has increased since first estimated in 2016 with a construction start date in 2019. To make it look like the cost had not gone up, the Owner’s Project Manager reduced (and hid) many of the numbers, including the cushion of contingencies. They also did a bait and switch on the timeline, telling the Council one schedule to get the approval while operating out of the public eye with another (longer) schedule. I contend that the library budget is unrealistically low and puts the town at great risk of having to foot the bill for significant cost overruns.

The fire station and DPW figures above are both also significantly lower than estimated in 2016/2018. It will not be possible to get what the town has said it wants in those two buildings for those figures. I support capping budgets from the start but wants will have to be scaled back, by a lot.

The elementary school estimate is likely high but that’s okay at this early stage. It behooves the building committee to ensure reimbursement opportunities from the state are maximized (including for renewables) and costs are minimized. Again, wants will have to be reined in as every 1,000-sf built is at least $500,000 more in cost.

My biggest concern is the impact that trying to fund all of these projects in a short time period will have on operating budgets. This year, cuts had to be made across the board and next year they will be even more painful. One example: our elementary schools had their art and technology teachers reduced to four days per week, a cut felt by all students in the schools. What will have to be cut next year in order to support these ambitious infrastructure plans? And what capital projects that residents value will have to wait an indefinite amount of time because all of the dollars are needed to pay the debt on these projects?

In addition, Town leadership has not shown itself capable of managing and providing oversight of multiple simultaneous projects. Even with the school project, the only one moving right now, the ball was dropped in posting a required ad in the paper, a mistake which cost the project another six weeks.  The MSBA admitted Amherst into the pipeline in December 2019, almost two years ago, and we are only now looking at designer applications. How is the town going to properly manage four of these large-scale projects at once when it has already been show that one is sometimes too much to handle?

  • School – Fire Station – DPW – Library

My children attended Wildwood in its second year after attending kindergarten in Paris. We called it (and many still do!) Wild Child School based on both the behavior induced by the “quad” classrooms of 80-100 kids in one space and the very permissive educational models being promulgated at the time. When the Town proposed that substantial money could be saved using the same plans for Fort River, parents responded with a loud, but ineffective NO. Of course, no one listened then, as no one listens now. Plus ca change….

As for the fire station: I joined town meeting in 1975 as the East Pleasant Street was put online. Already a South Amherst fire station was under discussion. Meanwhile Hadley has a north fire station, library, and senior center for about $21M, all attractive and inviting buildings! Plus ca change….

The middle class, families that filled our then high-ranked schools, can no longer find attainable (able to afford the down payment and taxes) in Amherst. We have built no starter housing for college faculty, staff or town employees in fifty years.

  • School – Fire Station – DPW – Library

What about focusing on hiring four new firefighters/ambulance personnel to help the shortage we have in Amherst. At the most it would cost $400,000.  Do you know how stressed out they are trying to do their job with a shortage of personnel?

  • School – Fire Station – DPW – Library

I rank the elementary school proposal first not only because of its intrinsic importance but because the resolution of school building plans could affect the availability of town buildings for other projects, including the three other projects on the table.

  • School – Fire Station – DPW – Library

I believe the highest priority for Amherst is education, so a new Elementary School is ranked as the first priority.

The next two capital projects, represent issues of safety and an investment in infrastructure, so a New South Amherst Fire Station and a Dept. of Public Works Facility are ranked second and third.

Expanding Jones Library is a VANITY PROJECT.  The Jones Library is a gem that has been neglected for more than a decade. Jones Library needs a full renovation and infrastructure upgrade but does NOT need to be expanded. The Jones Library project as proposed, is wasteful, overly large, out-of-character with its historic neighbors and too costly for the town of Amherst. Go back to the drawing board to create a green, sustainable design that does not require tearing down the ADA compliant 1993 brick addition that has a metal roof with a 50-year lifespan. Instead, replace the leaking atrium, hire a professional space planner to reorganize the interior space and fully RENOVATE the Jones Library building within the existing building footprint and within Amherst’s financial means. Avoid a tax override for this bloated library project that will jeopardize the new school project and ultimately make Amherst more unaffordable for more people. Think green!

  • School – Fire Station – DPW – Library

My husband and I prioritize health and safety projects first.  Therefore, the health and safety of the town’s children should be first, no question.  The next two — protection against fire, maintenance of road infrastructure,  purity of water we drink and safe disposal of sewage — come close behind.

The renovation of the Jones Library, as it is currently envisioned, is entirely discretionary spending and should be ranked last.  We recognize the library needs attention with issues of long-deferred maintenance and inefficient use of space.  However, the design being proposed is grandiose and entirely unsuited for the town’s needs.

  • School – Fire Station – DPW – Library

Amherst should focus on the three top priorities (a new elementary school, South Amherst fire station and a new DPW headquarters) and  start over with a new, sustainable plan to RENOVATE , not expand the Jones Library.

  • School – Library – Fire Station – DPW

I place the elementary project first because it was and is most important to our residents, and it did go first and would have been underway.  It’s not the fault of the library project that the schools project didn’t happen. It’s not the fault of fire or DPW that the Commonwealth doesn’t offer grant programs we could enter. If you interpret the results of people placing the elementary project or fire project first as meaning the library project shouldn’t happen now you do a disservice to your readers and your analysis would have no credibility.

  • School – Library – Fire Station – DPW

Both the library and schools need costly repairs now. With the approximately half of funding for the renovation of the library and new school available, it makes sense to finance those projects.

  • School – Library – Fire Station – DPW

This interactive survey format is engaging, but it doesn’t allow for placing any of these projects on an equal prioritization. However, this survey suggests that cost is the only factor that should be considered trying to prioritize. Yes, prioritization is necessary for planning the sequencing of projects, all 4 projects are critically necessary to sustain the current future health of our community. Thus, in my “ranking,” a lower priority does not mean that project should not be done; it means the timeline and project implementation plan should be developed in a way that allows the higher priority, urgent projects to be completed on time.

The decision is not an either/or decision — the future of our town depends on all four being addressed. The decision is how do we complete these projects from a funding and timing/sequencing perspective, and that plan has already been developed.

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2 thoughts on “School Ranked Top Priority In Building Project Survey; Fire Station, DPW And Library Follow

  1. This method employed to understand preferences is very poor. When people are asked to “rank” the choices, the results are likely to be misleading. This is evident in the author’s arbitrary assignment of points to each choice. The survey should have allowed each respondent to assign points themselves that actually reflected the value they attached to each project, for example, 3=very important, 2=moderately important, 1=slightly, and 0=not important. The resulting ratings would have provided a better picture of what people value, rather than having their judgments arbitrarily assigned values by the author of the survey after the fact. Toss it out!

  2. Thanks for your feedback, John. The method used to score building project preferences was not my arbitrary invention but was built into the software used to collect and analyze responses, and is actually a common method for deriving aggregate scores in ranking surveys. E.g. see https://help.surveyhero.com/faq/how-are-scores-calculated-on-the-ranking-question/.

    I acknowledge that a few respondents objected to having to prioritize one project over another when they felt the projects to be equally important, and their comments reflected this. However, most reader rankings were unequivocal.

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