Jones Library News Highlights For The Week Of August 22, 2022
Trustees Pledge $8.6 Million Endowment To Cover Possible $17 Million Budget Gap
The main order of business at the unrecorded August 22 Jones Library Board of Trustees meeting was to vote on a motion made by Board President Austin Sarat and tabled at the prior week’s meeting. The motion was “to enter into a new agreement with the town pledging the value of the endowment to help fund the Jones Library building project.” The purpose of the motion was to define a backstop that would limit the responsibility of the Town for covering escalating construction costs and persuade the Town to assume the risk of moving forward with the project.
The construction project, originally budgeted at $36.3 million, is now estimated to cost between $46.8 million and $53.3 million, representing a budget gap of between $10.5 million and $17 million. The low end of the range is based on a cost estimate provided by Fennessy Consulting who were selected by the project designer, Finegold Alexander Architects (FAA). The high end of the range is based on an estimate by RLB who were independently chosen by the Town.
Ken Guyette of Colliers Project Management presented the group with a cost analysis. He pointed out that Colliers has been paid $66,000 to date and stands to earn an additional $77,000 if the project is continued to the point when bids will go out. FAA has earned $327,000 to date and is projected to be paid another $1,308,000 between now and bid date. In total, continuing to prepare bids for the project is anticipated to cost $1,385,000 in professional fees.
Guyette described the downside of halting the project. An estimated $16.2 – $19.5 million would be required to repair mounting problems with the building such as an aging HVAC system and leaky atrium. Additionally, a $2.7 million grant disbursement received from the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners (MBLC) would need to be returned. Omitted from the discussion was the refusal by the Library Capital Campaign to consider raising funds or seeking grants to support the building repair options.
Library Director Sharon Sharry explained that the Capital Campaign is ramping up its fundraising activities to meet the growing budget gap. With project completion now pushed out to 2027, Sharry is confident that the Capital Campaign can increase its contribution from its current $6.6 million obligation to the Town, up to $15 million by project closeout in 2028. This assumes several goals that are not guaranteed to be met, including $2.5 million in the sale of Historic Tax Credits, $1.2 million in new state grants, $2.1 million in federal grants and $1 million per year in community donations through 2026.
Trustee Treasurer Bob Pam presented a spreadsheet model, based on a total project cost of $49.5 million, that revealed a cash flow problem beginning in 2024. Funds from the Town, MBLC and the Capital Campaign would not be sufficient to meet expenses. The deficit rises to $15 million in 2025, before falling to $8.5 million in 2025 and $4.8 million at project completion. The deficit would need to be borne by the Library endowment and the Town.
Guyette described how money could be saved by replacing certain project design features with less expensive alternatives. He proposed a set of possible value management changes that could save $1.6 million. Included in the list were using a less expensive exterior material, eliminating the replacement of window sashes, using acoustic ties in lieu of a compound wood ceiling, metal rather than glass railings, and going with a concrete sidewalk instead of stone and granite pavers.
When the time came to vote, Treasurer Pam stated that he could not support pledging the endowment.
“As the financial officer of the Board I have to say no on this project. The level of risk to both the operations and to the ability to carry it through to the end is greater than I think is appropriate for this board to approve.”
The other five trustees disagreed. In the words of Tamson Ely, “When this project goes through, we’ll have so many more people in there using the library. … I know it’s daunting and it’s scary but I don’t see an option but to go forward,” she said.
The motion passed 5-1. Trustees Sarat, Ely, Alex Lefebvre, Lee Edwards, and Farah Ameen voted in favor with Pam voting against.
Building Committee Endorses Trustee Proposal
The next afternoon the Jones Library Building Committee (JLBC) heard Austin Sarat, who also chairs the JLBC, describe the agenda of the meeting being to “decide what we say to the architect and the Owner’s Project Manager (OPM) so that the architects are ready to enter into design development.”
Finance Director Sean Mangano corrected Sarat. “I think it would be a recommendation to the town manager to tell FAA we would go to the next step. The town manager is the determining body to move from one phase to the next.”
The Committee heard from Ginny Hamilton who disclosed that she has been working since March as the project’s paid Campaign Manager, an employee of the Friends of the Jones Library. She explained that the Friends have been working for five years to put a fundraising infrastructure in place, implementing a database and financial systems and hiring a design service, IdeaCo, to help with branding.
The Campaign is now entering a quiet phase where the goal is to raise at least half of the targeted monies before launching a more active public fundraising phase.
Hamilton continued, “Ideally when you get to the point where construction starts there’s a big public launch where we’re talking to some Amherst-connected celebrities to be part of that, and because once there’s a big hole in the ground in downtown and once construction is happening people pay attention differently.”
She reported that the Capital Campaign is ahead of schedule in reaching its pre-cost-escalation fundraising goal of $6.6 million. Their aim was to raise 50% of the goal by March 2023. Now, in August 2022, they have attained 47% of the initial target, with a $50,000 contribution coming in that day.
“We recognize that this is not enough with the new numbers but it’s making the point regarding our success because this is an indicator of our capacity going forward,” she said.
Mangano raised a concern based on a previous recommendation from the OPM that the project not move forward without a balanced budget. Ken Guyette replied that that advice had come from his Collier’s associate, Craig DiCarlo. Guyette’s view is that, while a balanced budget is generally recommended, “with times being what they are right now and the fluctuations that are happening in the market, and the potential for corrections in the future it’s our recommendation that we continue forward.”
Town representative on the JLBC, Zander Lopez, said that he’d prefer to send no recommendation to the Town Manager, feeling that “this is a conversation about larger town priorities.”
Finance Director Mangano stated that, “Given the magnitude of the decision there’s a level of due diligence that the Town Manager and others need to think through. I do think we need a week or two longer to get our arms around this.”
Director Sharon Sharry challenged the contention that the Committee should be considering broader Town priorities. “I respectfully disagree with Zander. It is our job to look at what is best for the Jones Library Building Project,” she argued.
Ultimately the committee agreed. The JLBC voted 6-1-2 to recommend to Town Manager Paul Bockelman that the project continue. Trustees Sarat and Alex Lefebvre, Library employees Sharry and George Hicks-Richards, Town Councilor Anika Lopes, and Town representative Christine Gray-Mullens voted in favor, Town representative Lopez voted against, and Mangano and Bockelman abstained.
What happens next is not completely clear. Asked by Gray-Mullen if the Town Council needs to become involved, Bockelman replied, “The contracting authority is the Town Manager. As long as it’s within the appropriation [the Council need not become involved], and at this moment that’s where we are.”