Library Trustees Balk At New Agreement With Town



Jones Library News Highlights For The Week Of September 26, 2022

Town’s Demand For Building Project Contingency Planning Provokes Complaints
With the estimated cost for the Jones Library renovation-expansion ballooning from $36.3 million to upwards of $43.5 million, and several Town leaders suggesting that the project is no longer feasible, the Library Board of Trustees proposed that they would backstop the roughly $1.8 million in design costs needed to sustain the project through its Construction Bid phase in late 2023. Specifically, should the bids prove too high to continue the project, the Trustees would invest $1.8 million in repairs to the building.  Town Council voted 8-5 to take them up on their offer, and asked Town Manager Paul Bockelman to amend the existing Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) between the Trustees and the Town that spells out the library’s commitment to the project.

The Trustees got more than they had bargained for when they reviewed a first draft of the MOA at their September 27 meeting.

In an effort to avoid further financial responsibility by the Town, and citing the unanticipated budget gap and uncertainty around the Library Capital Campaign’s ability to raise funds to cover it, the Town Manager’s amended MOA stated:

Whereas, given the uncertainty in funding the difference between the Original Total Project Cost and the New Total Project cost (the “Differential”), the parties agree that in the event the Project does not proceed past the Design, Construction Plans and Bidding phase, the parties will undertake the urgent repairs required to the Building roof and HVAC system (the “Building Repairs”); and

Whereas, given that the Town will proceed with the Design, Construction Plans and Bidding notwithstanding such uncertainty, the Town seeks assurance from the Library that the Library will invest at least $1,800,000 of its own funds toward the Building Repairs;

The MOA goes on to propose that the Trustees pay for repairs within three years of the date when the Town decides to end the project.

The Agreement outlines three reasons that the Town might decide not to proceed with the project past the Bid phase:

(a) The Town Council does not appropriate funds to cover all eligible costs of the Project as required by the MBLC; or

(b) The Town Manager determines that the Library has not received funds, secured commitments, and/or obtained grants in the amount of at least $7,000,000 as of the opening of construction bids, not including the Jones Library Endowment.

(c) The Town Manager determines that the project is not financially feasible.

Several terms of the Agreement rankled trustees.

Farah Ameen was unhappy with a clause that ensures that the Library will be prepared to quickly undertake necessary repairs should the project be terminated:

The Library agrees that, given the urgent need of the Building Repairs, Library staff will work with Town staff, at least once every quarter from the date of this Agreement, to discuss the nature, scope, feasibility and design of the Building Repairs and to develop a repair plan and schedule should the Project not proceed.

Ameen felt “it seems like a lot to put on our staff because they already have their regular jobs — I’m presuming they’re working on some level as if the project is going ahead and now we are adding another layer to their tasks to work with the town on building repairs.”

Tamson Ely objected to what she perceived as a negative tone in the document, pointing out that the Town Council voted to proceed to Bid phase.  Her observation was that “It’s all about stopping the project and what happens.”

Chair Austin Sarat responded that he saw the MOA’s tone not as negative, but as reflecting an excess of caution and clarity in case the project turns out to be too expensive and unable to proceed.

Alex Lefebvre felt that the Town’s demands were too specific and there was too much emphasis on repairs and not enough on “meeting the needs of the community.”  The Town “shouldn’t be dictating what we’re going to be doing next,” she said.

Trustee Treasurer Bob Pam was worried that the MOA commits the Library to funding the difference between the New Total Project Cost and the Original Total Project Cost, whatever it may be, which imposes undue financial risk to the library.  “You are aware that I’ve had concerns about that,” he said.

After the discussion Sarat acknowledged that the Trustees may not be ready to agree to the MOA as is.  He requested that he and Library Directory Sharon Sharry be allowed to go back into talks with the Town Manager and Finance Director.  He noted that until an agreement is signed, the building project may not be able to move forward.

“Let’s see if we can fix some of the language and change some of this and eliminate some of that and see whether or not we can come back with a different version,” he proposed.

The Trustees aim to review and approve the Memorandum of Agreement Amendment at their next meeting on Monday, October 3 at 5pm.  The meeting will be conducted over Zoom.

Jones Among 12 Libraries Seeking State Funds To Meet Rising Costs
The Jones Library is not the only library construction project that is now under water due to rising construction costs.  Amherst is teaming up with the municipalities of Brewster, Deerfield, Fitchburg, Gloucester, Lynnfield, Orange, Seekonk, Sharon, Swansea, Westborough, and Westford to lobby state legislators to provide additional $87.7 million of American Rescue Plan (ARPA) money earmarked for COVID-impacted library construction projects in the state’s supplemental budget now being created.

Jones Library Trustee Chair Austin Sarat has sent an appeal to Massachusetts legislators to support the funding.  Pegging the current cost of the Jones building project at $49.9 million, Sarat argues that simple repairs will only be more expensive, and “allowing these 12 projects to fail will ultimately result in much higher price tags for each municipality.”

Attached to Sarat’s letter is a spreadsheet showing the budget overruns of each of the 12 projects and listing town contacts for the 12 communities seeking additional funding.  Town contacts for Amherst are listed as Kent Faerber and Ginny Hamilton of the Library Capital Campaign and former District 3 Town Councilor George Ryan.

Governor Charlie Baker filed a FY22 supplemental budget on August 31 which proposes to invest $840 million in transportation, health and human services, school safety and other fiscal year closeout needs.  The new spending is supported by an unexpectedly large FY22 revenue surplus.

Massachusetts has a reported $2.3 billion of ARPA funds still to be appropriated. The 12 financially troubled library projects hope that the Legislature will see fit to add $87.7 million in ARPA funding to the supplemental budget to cover combined library project budget shortfalls.

Deerfield’s Tilton Library Director Candace Bradbury-Carlin has commented that the supplemental budget may be taken up by the Massachusetts Legislature as early as Thanksgiving. 

The libraries have created an online form for submitting a message expressing one’s view on the need for additional state funding to their local state representative.

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