Inflation Forcing Library Project To Cut Construction Costs. OPM Sees ‘Tough Decisions’ Ahead


Interior rendering of proposed rennovated Jones Library adult collection area (second floor). Photo: Finegold Alexander Architects

Jones Library News Highlights For The Week Of April 25, 2022

Construction Cost Estimate Has Risen $5.5 Million In Two Years

An updated Construction Cost Report from Fennessy Consulting Services estimates that the contract awarded for construction of the Jones Library renovation and addition, scheduled to begin in June 2023, will cost $30.3 million.  This represents a $5.5 million (22%) increase from an estimate prepared in June 2020, and is $3.4 million over the construction line item in the project budget, last updated in January 2021.

Fennessy estimates that if the project is to employ timber rather than steel construction as recommended by the Sustainability Committee, the cost will increase an additional $506,000.

The Jones Library Building Committee (JLBC) in conjunction with Finegold Alexander Architects (FAA) will need to find design changes that will bring construction under budget. At the April 29 Design Subcommittee meeting, FAA Principal Ellen Anselone requested a list of planned sustainability improvements and an idea from the JLBC which are must-have and which may be optional.

Xander Lopez, representing Town residents on the JLBC, asked “What is our exit plan if we can’t get this back to a budget that is feasible?”

Amherst Finance Director Sean Mangano followed up, “At what point will we know whether we can reduce 20% of construction costs and have a project that everyone’s happy with? … When will we know what it looks like and then decide if this is a project that we still want to support?”

Committee Chair Austin Sarat warned against overreacting to the cost estimate. His understanding was that “FAA is optimistic that they can make our project work.  That doesn’t just mean keep it within the budget. [It means] realize the vision that the MBLC is funding. … We might not be $6 million over budget as the design gets more refined.”

The Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners (MBLC) has awarded the Jones Library a $13.9 million construction grant that stipulates that building square footage and program specifications cannot change. The Town’s share of the project cost is projected to be $16 million.

Owner’s Project Manager (OPM) Craig DiCarlo of Colliers stated that “There will be some tough decisions along the way.” He explained that there will be another cost estimate during the Design Development phase of the project. It will offer an opportunity to reassess whether the project is affordable. If the committee is not comfortable it can ask, “Are we going in a path that is not going to serve the Town well?” DiCarlo said.

Town Councilor Anika Lopes brought up a complaint she has heard from community members that a proposed Teen Space in the renovated library might conflict with a proposed BIPOC led Youth Center.

[See related: Community Safety Working Group Opposes New Young Adult Services Department At Jones Library]

Library Director Sharon Sharry replied that the Teen Space is required as part of the project and cannot be eliminated.

Trustee Alex Lefebvre expressed concern that the plan to add gender-neutral restrooms in the new library might be dropped.  DiCarlo said that Massachusetts Plumbing Code does not allow counting gender-neutral bathrooms toward the required minimum number of gender-specific bathrooms.  Design Subcommittee Chair Christine Gray-Mullen advised that this topic should be taken up in more detail in consultation with FAA at a future Design Subcommittee meeting.

Trustees Approve Donor Naming Opportunities
At their April 27 meeting, the Jones Library Board of Trustees considered a proposal from the co-chairs of the Jones Library Capital Campaign, Kent Faerber and Lee Edwards, to approve the granting of donor recognition signage for fundraising purposes.  A total of 59 different naming opportunities were proposed, ranging from the Children’s Library which would adopt the name of a donor at the $1,000,000 level down to computer stations, study carrels, landscaping and a solar array which could be named for a $2500 contribution.

Some Proposed Recognition Opportunities:

Trustee Bob Pam felt that the plan went too far in commoditizing the library and could preclude naming opportunities that the Trustees might want to grant in the future.  Director Sharry said, “There are a lot of libraries out there that are grappling with the same issue, and they think it is completely tacky to put people’s names on every surface, but at the end of the day, taxes do not cover everything, and it works.”

The donor recognition policy and list of naming opportunities were approved by a vote of 5-1, with Pam dissenting.

Trustees Approve Collection Development Policies
The Personnel, Planning and Policy (PPP) Committee presented updates to the library’s development policies for the general collection, special collections and artwork which had been recommended by staff.

The general collection policy included a form which patrons could submit to request that an objectionable item be removed from library materials. In a change from years past, now only Jones Library cardholders may request reconsideration of an item.

Changes to the development policies for special collections and artwork generated some discussion. A section on Deaccession Procedure draws from the Code of Ethics of the American Alliance of Museums, and requires that the proceeds from the sale of a collection item shall be directed back into the collection from which it came.  Sharry stated that this was to prevent incidents like the 1989 sale of the Albert Bierstadt painting, “Platte River, Nebraska” from its art collection. The painting fetched $2.64 million which was used to help pay for the 1993 addition to the Jones Library.  This twenty-nine-year-old wing is slated for demolition as part of the upcoming renovation-expansion project.

[See related: The Lamentable Sale Of Library’s Bierstadt Masterpiece Gives Us Cause To Reconsider Proposed Demolition Of 1993 Addition]

Trustee treasurer Pam argued that deacquisitioned items should follow the same process as bequests.  If over $1000, the Board should decide whether the proceeds go into the operating budget, which is standard, or into the library’s endowment.  The proposed policy, he said, “goes far too far for me.”

The trustees voted 5-1 to adopt the updated collection development policies, with Pam voting no.

Trustees Approve Changes To Director’s Annual Evaluation Policy
The PPP Committee recommended changing the audience from whom input would be solicited concerning the Director’s annual performance evaluation.  In addition to staff and the public, the Friends of the Library, the library’s fundraising arm, were written into the evaluation input process.

PPP Chair Tamson Ely explained, “Instead of lumping them with the general public, I just thought, because of the important work the Friends do for the library, that having them noted as a group was important.”

The updated evaluation policy passed unanimously.

Building Committee Will Reach Out To Public At May 1 Open House

This Sunday, May 1, from 12:00 to 2:00 p.m., the JLBC Outreach Committee will host an Open House at the Jones Library, 43 Amity Street, Amherst.

According to Outreach Committee Chair Lefebvre, there will be fifteen tables, each devoted to a different programming element. Children’s activities will be offered for the first hour.

The purpose of this event, she said, is to get the community to think about and talk about what should be in program elements such as ESL, teen space and children’s services.  Flip charts will be available where attendees can add comments on sticky notes.  The last table will be a “Dream Board” where people can make suggestions that did not fit at one of the previous tables.

Lefebvre noted that planners reached out to the head of the Vote No/Save Our Library organization who agreed to circulate the event flyer to the group’s mailing list.  “In terms of people who are at the tables, we have people who were for the library project, and we have people who were against the library project, so it is an all-inclusive event,” she said.

[See related: A Quick Guide To Proposed Jones Library Design Changes]

Photo: Jones Library
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8 thoughts on “Inflation Forcing Library Project To Cut Construction Costs. OPM Sees ‘Tough Decisions’ Ahead

  1. The following comment was sent to Angela Mills, staff liaison to the JLBC because I was not able to find a place to communicate to the Jones Library Building Committee, despite their supposed call for community outreach. While watching Tuesday’s meeting and seeing the cost overruns projected by the current design, it occurred to me that maybe the cost could be reduced without sacrificing the sustainability measures if the architects again considered keeping and upgrading the 1993 addition, rather than demolishing it. This would save the costs of demolition and require a much smaller new addition to meet the library’s needs. I am sure that the costs of keeping the accessible addition that already exists would be much more affordable and kinder to the environment than the current plans. It would also permit saving the Kinsey garden.

    Financing the current project would most likely decimate the library’s endowment and hinder its ability to operate into the future. Saving the 1993 addition would save money and most likely garner more support for the project, since many of those objecting to it in the first place (me included) were upset at the loss of the 1993 addition and the Kinsey garden.

    I hope the committee will consider this option.

  2. I had the same thought, Maura. I cannot envision how they could “value engineer” a quarter of the previously-estimated cost and still have a quality project. Shifting to a reuse and renovation of the 1993 addition rather than demolition would seem to be a logical alternative that may reduce costs significantly.

    It appears that the architects and library director did at least ask the MBLC this week if the square footage could be reduced to save on cost, but they reported that the MBLC said that is not an option. The rigidity of the grant seems ridiculous to me. The grant amount is set in stone, even when construction is 7 years later and costs skyrocket in the interim, and they will not allow any modification to the building program or square footage.

  3. Perhaps a novel “naming opportunity” at the Jones could be an “adopt a book” program?

    Each “adoptee” would come with not only its author and title on the cover, but also with the “guardian(‘)(s)(‘)” names(s) embossed with gold leaf on the spine in very large, all-caps font….

    [Of course, the font for satire is….]

  4. We can all hope that Austin Sarat is right that we will be able to squeeze $6 million from the library budget without sacrificing anything much; but please pardon my skepticism. Afterall, if there was already this much flab, then why wasn’t it already squeezed out? If we could have saved this money, does that mean that we had been given a budget that was already inflated? Have we been the victim of a classic bait-and-switch, promised a great deal only to be presented with the true cost after we have committed?
    I think it is more reasonable to assume that inflation has hit a somewhat optimistic budget leaving us with a conundrum: as Finance Director Sean Mangano says, can we “can reduce 20% of construction costs and have a project that everyone’s happy with?” Is this a “project that we still want to support?” The library was sold to the town with the promise that the new space, easy accessibility, and sustainable design would make its $30 million price tag all worthwhile. But if we won’t get what we were promised, do we still want the library? And shouldn’t this be a decision that Amherst’s residents should decide?

  5. It was distressing to hear Jones Trustees President Austin Sarat cut off a discussion among the trustees at the Jones building committee meeting last week about cost cutting contingencies after the Trustees heard a report that construction cost estimates for the library expansion had ballooned by 22% (or about $6M). Sarat’s insistence that such discussions are premature and that we can still build the library as we planned it were not supported by OPM Craig DiCarlo who offered that the town would get the best library that available funding would allow but that tough decisions lie ahead. Holding off on discussions of the challenges that lie ahead and what possibilities exist for addressing them, or, keeping those discussions outside of the public eye, reflects a bad instinct and is as misguided as Sarat’s expressed hope that maybe cost estimates will go down before the final estimate is received. The decisions that need to be made are consequential. They should neither be made at the last minute nor without considerable public input. Can we get anything approximating the library we were promised in exchange for the impressive sum that the town has already committed to pay? And if the costs continue to escalate – where will the money come from? Tax payers are entitled to know and indeed they are entitled to be actively involved in the discussions of contingencies. Should there be, as both building committee member Xander Lopez and DiCarlo have asked, a point where the town will have to decide whether the final product that we will get merits the investment required? And if bailing on the project is to be a contingency, then what does that point look like? There’s plenty of cause for concern on the part of folks who think that the project is already unreasonably expensive and who worry that it could become a lot more so. We were assured that the library would not request any additional staffing for the new building. And yet only weeks after the borrowing vote, the library returned to the town with a request that the town fund the entire personnel budget and followed that with a proposal to expand the staff by adding a new department. And we were promised, at the time that the council voted on town borrowing for the project that the library would not receive “one additional penny “beyond the impressive sum that had been allocated. And yet it’s clear that the library is going to cost a lot more than the original estimate. I (along with several others) warned, beginning over a year ago,

    that this project was poised to become Amherst’s Big Dig – and a burden on budgets for a generation. Amherst residents have a right to be fully informed as the project moves forward and a right to be fully involved in framing options for what happens next. The public should ask early and often about developing contingencies and about concrete plans for funding and design cuts. And they should not be deterred by an assertion that it is too soon to be worrying about this.

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