Jones Library News Highlights For The Week Of September 6, 2022
Finance Committee To Seek Answers From Trustees
The Amherst Finance Committee met on September 7 and began reviewing the financial viability of the Jones Library renovation-expansion project based on recently updated budget projections.
Finance Committee Chair Andy Steinberg described the meeting as an informational session with no decisions to be made. He briefed the committee on the Town Council’s April 2021 decision to authorize $36,279,700 for the project, in a vote taken before FinCom members and Councilors Michele Miller and Elisha Walker had been elected. Steinberg pointed out that the town’s local share of project costs was pegged at $15,751,810 and he explained that Library estimates for performing similar repairs without a building addition ranged from $12 – $16 million. This comparison motivated the Council’s 10-2-1 approval of the appropriation, he said.
Vice Chair Cathy Schoen pointed out that the repair estimates made no accounting for a possible Community Preservation Act award of $1 million. The repair estimates also assumed no grant funding, Library Capital Campaign donations or Trustee commitment.
Finance Director Sean Mangano presented an updated summary of the project’s finances, stating that the approved budget of $36.3 million has been eclipsed by rising construction costs and now stands at $49.3 million.
He concluded that meeting this $13 million deficit would require the Jones Library Trustees to increase their fundraising goal from $5.6 million to $18.6 million.
Town Manager Paul Bockelman explained that a Memorandum of Understanding between the town and the Library Trustees which was approved by the Town Council in 2021 limits the Town’s commitment to $15.8 million and backstops the Trustee fundraising commitment of $5.7 million with the value of the Library endowment. He summed up the new discussion that needs to take place as “Does the entire amount of the increased expected costs come from the trustees and fundraising [or does] the council want to put more money into the project?”
“It could be a number of different variables that we can try to outline in the future for you in terms of how we meet this new challenge of the $49 million budget,” he said.
FinCom member Miller asked who is responsible for the approximately $1.4 million in designer and project manager fees that would be incurred if the project is allowed to proceed to the bid phase.
“That would be the town being responsible for that if we choose to move forward, but our habit is that we make sure that we have a strong funding plan before we take the next significant step, and that’s why we’re having this conversation,” replied Bockelman.
Town Council President Lynn Griesemer presented a list of questions for the library trustees aimed at collecting information needed to continue the review of the building project finances. Areas of interest consisted of the status of the library endowment, latest construction cost estimates, the fundraising plan, potential historic tax credits, and clarification of repair options.
Additional questions were accepted from attendees during the public comment period. FinCom member Walker asked if there has been an analysis of the impact of the budget gap on the Town’s capital plan and capital and operating budgets. Griesemer added it to the list, observing that this was a question for Town Administration and not the Trustees.
Miller described a lack of clarity in the decision-making process and asked who would be responsible for urgent library repair costs if the project does not move forward. She also suggested that more complete communication of the process to the public is needed.
Building Committee Eliminates Sawtooth Roofs And Real Slate To Further Reduce Renovation Costs
At the September 8 meeting of the Jones Library Building Committee (JLBC), members reviewed a list of cost-cutting changes to the building project design that had been recommended by the Design Subcommittee. These “value management” changes included measures such as concrete sidewalks instead of stone and granite pavers for a savings of $575,000 and using acoustic ceiling tiles in lieu of compound wood ceiling for a savings of $300,000.
Trustee Alex Lefebvre proposed two new cost reductions that had previously been considered not plausible. Using synthetic slate on the renovated building’s roof had been ruled out because it would not meet historic preservation requirements, but Lefebvre reported that the Amherst Historical Commission had allowed synthetic slate on the roof of the historic Boltwood Inn, and she suggested that it be used on the Jones Library as well. Owners Project Manager (OPM) Craig DiCarlo said that if synthetic slate were as inexpensive as metal, a savings of $320,000 might be realized.
Lefebvre also spoke with the Library’s Sustainability Committee and learned that seven sawtooth roof skylights, proposed by the designer to allow the mounting of solar panels and to let in natural light, were not essential from a sustainability standpoint. Replacing the sawtooth structures with flat roof would save an estimated $495,000. Library Director Sharon Sharry commented, “the architects will be a little disappointed because of the aesthetic difference, but it’s five hundred thousand dollars so I think it’s something we should do.”
The JLBC approved the two new changes and eight others that had been recommended by the Design Subcommittee. The total cost savings was estimated to be $1.915 million, reducing the project budget gap to $9.6374 million.
Finance Director Mangano reported that an amended contract with the designer Finegold Alexander Architects (FAA) had been signed. He received approval to pay FAA invoices for the months of May and June – both for $163,500.
Zander Lopez asked if there is a force majeure provision in effect that would free the Town from owing designer fees if the project is canceled. Mangano replied that the Town would owe FAA for all services rendered, but would not be committed to pay the designer after project termination.
Mangano broke the news that the MBLC has sent a letter announcing that they would be delaying the next $2.7 million grant disbursement until the end of the project’s bid phase, moving the disbursement delivery date from June 2023 to at least December 2023. He explained that the MBLC is concerned about project delays and uncertainty around the ability to fund it.
The OPM presented an updated schedule showing the project closeout occurring in mid-2026.
In Topics not Anticipated by Chair 48 Hours in Advance Director Sharry described a meeting she had attended with Town Council President Griesemer, State Representative Mindy Domb and State Senator Jo Comerford. The group discussed joining forces with 13 other Massachusetts libraries that have experienced escalation problems similar to the Jones. The libraries with building project budget challenges plan to team up with municipal leaders and state legislators to urge the state to cover escalation costs out of state budget surplus and ARPA funds. Details of this initiative will be presented to the Board of Library Trustees and the Town Council as they emerge.
The next JLBC meeting is scheduled for Thursday, September 22 at 4pm.