Building Committee Learns From Three Library Visits

Renovated Holyoke Public Library from Chestnut St.

Expanded and renovated Holyoke Public Library as seen from Chestnut St. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Jones Library News Highlights For The Week Of June 27, 2022

Holyoke, Medford, and Woburn Libraries Offer Lessons After Recent Renovations
Owners Project Manager Craig DiCarlo identified three recent public library renovations in Massachusetts communities similar in size to Amherst and arranged for the Jones Library Building Committee (JLBC) to tour them.  JLBC members visited Holyoke, Medford and Woburn libraries on June 8 and 10, and gathered information and insights from staff there.  Notes on the visits to Holyoke and Woburn have been published on the Town website.

Medford’s new Charlotte & William Bloomberg Medford Public Library was opened in early 2022 after a little more than two years in the construction phase.  The project benefited from a $3 million donation from former New York City Mayor and one-time Medford resident Michael Bloomberg. The new library is named after his parents.

Unlike Amherst, Medford elected to demolish its original library building and rebuild on the existing footprint.  The 44,000 sq. ft. building was reported to have cost $27.5 million and was supported by a $12.2 million Mass. Board of Library Commissioners (MBLC) grant.

Woburn Public Library staff offered tips on furnishings and quiet areas.  They also provided sample documents supporting moving the library to a temporary location during construction.

The 30,500 sq. ft. addition to the Woburn Library was completed in 2019, paid for by a municipal bond of $31.5 million, and supported by a $9.9 million MBLC construction grant.

The Woburn Library Project was not without controversy and tragedy. In 2011, the plan was tabled after Mayor Scott Galvin objected to a proposed $24 million renovation, citing the cost and scope of the project presented by the Board of Library Trustees.  In 2016, the Massachusetts Historical Commission found that the proposed addition had an adverse impact on the original 137-year-old historic library which had been designed by famed architect H.H. Richardson.  A worker died in a construction accident on the library site in 2017.

The Woburn Public Library Project married a glass-walled addition to the original 1879 Romanesque H. H. Richardson design.

Last year a local dispute erupted after Mayor Galvin proposed legislation to end lifetime appointments of trustees and to give the mayor power to appoint and remove the library director.  As a result, the trustee president was dismissed, and the library director resigned.

A new addition to the historic Holyoke Public Library was completed in 2013 with a construction cost of $14.5 million plus a financing cost of $2.8 million.  The city borrowed $5.5 for the project and the MBLC contributed $4.4 million in grant money.  An additional $2.1 million in federal New Market Tax Credits were received.

The city bond required some elaborate financial engineering because Holyoke can bond only for city-owned property.  The solution was to put ownership of the library in the hands of a new city-controlled entity, HPL Realty Corp.  The mayor and two city councilors comprise three of the five directors of the organization.

According to JLBC notes, for the seven years of the tax credit program there was a complex flow of funds between HPL Realty, the City and the Library. HPL Realty anticipates owning the library until the bond is paid off in 2032.

Also heard on the Holyoke visit was a warning about leaks between the original building and the new addition. At the June 21 JLBC meeting Town Manager Paul Bockelman cautioned attendees, “I do know in Holyoke they talked about the roof connection between the old and new as being the major problem area and that’s where they had water infiltration.  Making that work was really important, so I know that would be on your radar screen.”

As in Woburn, the Holyoke Library building project provoked some disagreement and ill feeling among city leaders. Two members of the Library Board of Directors resigned out of dissatisfaction with the direction that the renovation plan was taking the Library.  Tom Ripa resigned after being a Director for twenty years and voluntarily overseeing maintenance of the building.   Joining Ripa in protest was Olivia Mausel who served as a Historical Commissioner for the City for more than two decades and is currently on the Board of Directors of Holyoke Preservation Trust.

Holyoke, Medford and Woburn Exemplify Practical Library Sizing
Bean counters and concerned citizens may find an additional lesson in the libraries that the JLBC visited. Controversies notwithstanding, the Holyoke, Medford and Woburn building projects were considerably smaller and less expensive than what the Jones Library and Town of Amherst have undertaken.

This contrast can be seen in statistics drawn from the MBLC website and media reports and summarized in the table below.

LibraryPopulationSize Before ExpansionSize After ExpansionProject CostCity Share
Amherst39,92448,00061,296$36.3 million$15.9 million
Woburn40,22818,38649,903$ 31.5 million$13.5 million
Medford57,34129,87244,000$27.5 million$10.3 million
Holyoke40,11725,06440,515$14.5 million$5.5 million

Amherst, with the smallest population of the four cities, has committed to building the largest and most expensive library of the group.  In fact, the square footage of the expanded Holyoke, Medford and Woburn Libraries are all similar in size or smaller than the current Jones Library building.  The new Jones will be roughly 11,000 sq. ft. larger than the next biggest, in Woburn.

It is also notable that neither the Holyoke, Medford nor Woburn projects qualified for Massachusetts Historic Rehabilitation Tax Credits (MHRTC), a funding tool that Jones Library project promoters have touted in the past.

A search of MHRTC records turned up only two libraries that have received historic tax credit awards in the 18 years that the program has been in existence.  Both projects, one in Stockbridge and one in Shelburne, were restorations of historic buildings, not renovation/expansions like Amherst, Holyoke and Woburn, or demolition/expansions like in Medford.

The Jones Library Building Project has engaged Epsilon Associates to advise on securing tax credits.  Their success remains to be determined, but at least regarding the state program, history is not on their side.

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2 thoughts on “Building Committee Learns From Three Library Visits

  1. Stockbridge was an expansion and rehabilitation. Significant space was added to the rear of the building.

    And for disclosure purposes, I worked on the Stockbridge project, the Shelburne Falls project, the Holyoke project and Medford, and am continuing to work with the Friends of the Jones.

    Of note, the Jones project recently received a $200,000 grant from the Mass Cultural Facilities Fund. That was a highly competitive process and the award demonstrates the merits of the plan to improve accessibility to the Jones’ incredible collections and programs.

  2. Thanks, Matt, for pointing out your involvement in the Stockbridge Library renovation. In a description of the project, Allegrone Construction reported that the renovation added 2,437 square feet to the existing 10,310 square foot structure, while maintaining the building’s footprint and façade.

    This approach is much more in keeping with the principles of historic preservation than appending large, modernistic, glass-walled additions to nationally registered historic structures as was done in Holyoke and Woburn, and as is planned for the Jones Library in Amherst. I’m not aware of any modern additions to historic libraries that have qualified for Mass. Historic Rehabilitation Tax Credits.

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