Letter: Soaring Cost Estimates For Jones Expansion Are Still Incomplete

The Strong House, is the second oldest house in Amherst and home to the Amherst History Musuem. Costs estimates for the Jones Library expansion/demolition have not included the costs of mitigating damage to the Strong House that might be caused by nearby construction. Photo: Wikipedia

The following letter was sent to the Amherst Town Counci, the Town Manager, the Jones Library Trustees and the Amherst Historical Commission on September 8, 2022

This past weekend’s Amherst Indy features multiple reasons, from many contributors, for you to terminate the Jones Library’s oversized and ever more costly demolition/expansion project. As a past President of the Jones Library Board of Trustees, I would like to add yet more. I’ll also note some additional modest measures that the town and trustees might consider instead. 

Estimated Total Project Cost As Of August 22, 2022: $46.8 Million? Or $53.3 Million?
This project’s costs are out of control. The 2017 total project cost per the grant application was $36.3 million. As of August 2022, the professional construction cost estimator retained by the architects found the Total Project Cost to be $46.8 million. However, the Town of Amherst’s professional construction cost estimator found that the current Total Project Cost to be $6.5 million higher, i.e., $53.3 million. That’s quite a difference. What if the town’s higher cost estimate is the more accurate? Remember that this project is to demolish 40% of the Jones Library. What if there’s too little money to complete the job?

New, Increased Construction Cost Escalation Factor Is 1% / Month
As of August 22, 2022, the Owner’s Project Manager (OPM) for this project estimated the cost escalation for this project to be about 1%/month. This is at least 8.5% per year higher than cost escalation factors used in the grant application and, I understand, than in the two new cost estimates themselves. Based on the OPM’s own calculations for a two months’ delay, the increase in Total Project Cost in just a single year will be $4,332,000 per the lower estimate, and $6,396,000 per the higher one. That would yield Total Project Cost estimates of $51,132,000 and $59,696,000 respectively. And that’s just as of one year from now. Granted, this assumes that the 1% per month cost escalation stays relatively constant. It omits that each successive month’s increase is 1% of a greater figure. Using either estimate, though, this increase will make this project millions of dollars more costly than reported. Public donations seem unlikely to offset such drastic increases in cost.

The Town Apparently Still Needs Permission, And A Cost Figure, For CVS Lot As The Staging Area
The wrecking ball; dump trucks to remove demolition debris; delivery and storage of construction equipment and materials – all would need to use the CVS parking lot as the staging area. There is no alternative. The Town apparently has no agreement with the owner of the CVS building that permits its use of the parking lot as a staging area, and no figure for the cost.

Furthermore, I understand, the CVS building’s owner leases it to the store operator. If customers and CVS delivery trucks cannot use the CVS lot during construction, CVS might be forced to close. I would wonder about the Town’s potential liability in that case. More than six years after planning for this project began, this critical legal issue and potentially millions of dollars in costs are still unknowns. This is reason enough to end this project now.

Estimates Omit Some $1.5 – $2.1 Million For Historic Preservation Law Compliance
The Indy reported that at the 23 August meeting of the Jones Library Building Committee (JLBC), Trustee President Austin Sarat was prepared to recommend that the project go directly from the Schematic Design phase to the Design Development phase. This implied that the Schematic Design is ready to be finalized. Finance Director Sean Mangano quite rightly corrected this. This was doubtless because the project’s Schematic Design is still not ready for Design Development

This project still does not comply with the with the Massachusetts Historic Preservation Law. Compliance is mandatory: (i) the Jones Library is on the State and National Registers of Historic Places, and (ii) the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners’ construction grant contract provides that failure to comply breaches the contract and thereby forfeits the grant. Based on 950 CMR, “Protection of Properties included in the State Register of Historic Places,” Sections 71.07, “Review of Projects,” and 71.08, “Public Participation,” I estimate that the architects’ preparatory work and revision afterward (yet again!) of the Schematic Designs, plus the Massachusetts Historical Commission’s review and consultation process itself, will take at least 4 months.

The OPM’s 22 August figures cited above indicate that a 4-month delay will add $1,452,000, per the architects’ cost estimator, and $2,132,000, per the Town’s, to the cost of this project.

The Massachusetts Historical Commission described the required preparatory work in a 23 December 2016 letter to Town Manager Paul Bockelman. It is extensive. Architects must do it. Notably, professional fees are in addition to the cost increases from the delay.

Estimates Still Need A Cost Figure for Strong House Issues
To halt damage to the historic but fragile Strong House during demolition and construction for the Library’s 1993 brick addition, the unmortared sandstone portions of the Strong House foundation had to be braced. The private, non-profit Amherst Historical Society (AHS), not the Town, owns the Strong House. The Trustees have evidently never obtained an estimate of how, or what it will cost, to protect the Strong House from construction vibration damage, or other construction-related damage. Nor, as far as I know, have they ever obtained a figure from the AHS for obtaining a temporary construction easement over land owned by the AHS. The AHS owns to within about 4 feet of

the west side of the Jones Library. The Trustees obtained a construction easement from the AHS for their 1993 construction project. They would need another easement for this one.

If The Library’s Endowment is Exhausted, The Town Must Appropriate Some $330,000 Annually in Library Operating Expenses
Accepting the Library Trustees’ pledge of the Endowment almost certainly means exhausting it. But the Endowment’s income provides some $330,000 annually in Library operating expenses. If burgeoning construction costs require use of the Endowment to meet them, the Town will have to find money for the Library’s operating expenses somewhere in its budget – every year.

What Could the Jones Library Do Instead?
In April 2016, the Library’s architects found that the structure has 51,000 square feet, “if all spaces were to be used most efficiently.” This is 3,000 square feet more than the figure usually given. A library space planning professional can recommend how best to use this space. The Trustees should invest $20,000 or so and retain such a professional now.

The Jones Library can get more than 1,500 square feet of additional space for Special Collections by restoring the second floor in the Adult Reading Room.

The Library can save money on fuel, and help save the planet, by converting to ground source heating and cooling. The 2010 estimate from Dragin Geothermal found this to be feasible.

Sarah McKee

Sarah McKee has lived in Amherst for more than 20 years. She is a former President of the Jones Library Trustees, and is a member of the D.C. Bar.

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1 thought on “Letter: Soaring Cost Estimates For Jones Expansion Are Still Incomplete

  1. The factors mentioned in this article must be addressed in order to give an accurate appraisal of the true estimated cost of the Jones Library project. It seems more and more like a “bottomless pit,” that will encumber the town’s finances for many years and delay important projects like the new So. Amherst Fire Station, and the new building for the Amherst DPW. Shouldn’t projects that impact public safety be prioritized over a library renovation? This is an important question that should be put to Amherst’s voters! Many of us are on fixed incomes, and the inflation is making it harder to meet our financial obligations. Shouldn’t the town be mindful of the position that the ever increasing taxes that are levied upon us, place us in? Some of us may not be able to afford to live in Amherst, in future, if the taxes keep increasing, in the way that they likely will, with the prop. 2.5 override expected, soon.

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