Library Leaders Disagree On Aiding Schools, Viability Of Building Project
Jones Library News Highlights For The Week Of March 13, 2023
Conflicting Views Color Budget Committee Meeting
A philosophical rift was evident at the March 14 meeting of the Jones Library Budget Committee. On one side is Board of Trustees Treasurer Bob Pam, who has taken a pragmatic and risk-averse approach to fulfilling his fiduciary responsibilities, and a holistic view of where the Jones Library fits into Town of Amherst needs and services. On the other side are Library Director Sharon Sharry and the remaining five trustees who have adopted a more library-centric perspective toward funding, and a do-or-die position on the financially troubled renovation-expansion project.
At Tuesday’s meeting Pam announced the welcome news that the Town of Amherst FY24 appropriation for library operations would be upped by 0.5%, or $10,746 higher than previously anticipated. Due to favorable state aid predictions, the Town Manager has revised upward his recommended budget increase for all departments, from 2.5% to 3%.
Given the $10,746 unexpected windfall, Pam floated the idea of directing $10,000 of library funds to help the financially struggling elementary school libraries which stand to lose three full-time library paraeducators due to budget cuts.
“I don’t have a mechanism for that… we need the money,” asserted Sharry. “I don’t want to give away ten thousand dollars,” she added, “but that’s just me.”
Trustee Lee Edwards weighed in, “I think this would be a policy change. If you want to bring it up before the trustees, I think that’s the place to take it.”
Jones Treasurer’s Observation On Odds Of Building Project Moving Forward Draws Rebuke
Treasurer Pam has consistently raised concerns about a $10 million Jones Library building project budget gap and the risk it represents to the library’s $8+ million endowment. Noting four Amherst building projects competing for capital funds and the average $478 per year property tax hike currently needed to fund the new Fort River Elementary School that will be decided by a town wide referendum on May 2, Pam offered an assessment of the library project that was not bullish enough for his Budget Committee colleagues.
Remarked Pam, “I don’t know that it has changed anything drastically, but I would say that the percentage probability of the project going forward is probably down a few…”
Before he could finish his statement, Trustee Edwards who co-chairs the Library Capital Campaign jumped in. “I do not think that this is an appropriate subject for the Budget Committee to be taking up,” she exclaimed.
Pam countered, “The options for meeting financial obligations to the town involve two different issues and so you need to at least think about what are the probabilities of each of those.” The ability for the building project to move forward will depend on whether the Capital Campaign can raise the funds to cover the project budget gap, and whether the Town Council will authorize additional funding when project construction costs are better known.
Responded Edwards, “I think our job is to think about what is best for the library and how the budget for the library works.”
Director Sharry offered her view. “You’re absolutely wrong, Bob. What we are asking the town for is $15.8 million dollars and that number has not changed. If this project gets voted down, whether it’s November, December, January, February, whatever it is, it’s going to cost a hell of a lot more than $15.8 million.”
She continued, “The Capital Campaign Committee is working its tail off and they are 66% of the way there, so no, I disagree with you 150%, Bob.”
Pam asked Sharry to clarify her claim that the amount of gifts and pledges that the Capital Campaign has raised, $4.6 million, is “66% of the way there.”
Sharry explained, we need to raise $7 million in time for the Town Council vote [in November]. That is the number that we agreed on with the town that would be a reasonably good show that would give Town Council the confidence that we could raise the remaining funds.”
“That’s the first time I’ve heard those numbers,” said Pam.
“It’s been in charts, it’s been in meetings,” Sharry replied.
Owner’s Project Manager Craig DiCarlo Leaving
The Jones Library Building Committee (JLBC) was disappointed to learn on March 16 that this would be the final meeting for Owner’s Project Manager (OPM) Craig DiCarlo of Colliers Project Leaders. He is leaving Colliers for another job opportunity.
The OPM is charged with coordinating the many contractors and partners engaged in the design, bidding and construction of the building project, and keeping it on schedule and under budget. JLBC members appeared to agree that DiCarlo has been a trusted and stabilizing influence on a project beset with ballooning, inflation-driven cost escalation.
Colliers Associate Director Tim Alix announced that he would be supporting Construction Representative Dan Daisy in taking over as OPM after Daisy finished up current commitments and came up to speed on the Jones Library project.
,Town Manager Paul Bockelman voiced uneasiness. “I have a lot of concerns about the transitions we’ve gone through with Colliers. I mean, we started with Ken (corporate liaison Ken Guyette), we’ve got Craig, we’re now going to Tim and then Dan. I don’t like all these transitions that are happening.”
Alix assured that Colliers has overlap in project management expertise and the company will make sure there are no gaps in the transition.
JLBC Chair Austin Sarat noted, “I will say we have greatly appreciated the work that Craig has done. We’ve greatly appreciated his responsiveness, his sense of the intricacies and nuances of the project, and we will look forward to the same level of responsiveness and attentiveness to the intricacies and nuances of the project from Dan as he acclimates himself to the project.”
7 thoughts on “Library Leaders Disagree On Aiding Schools, Viability Of Building Project”
I question the veracity of the continued assertion that the town is only on the hook for $15.8 million for the library expansion project.
Even in the highly unlikely scenario that 1) the Library’s fundraising group manages to raise another $10 million, 2) construction bids come in at or below the last cost estimate, and 3) interest rates at the time of borrowing is under 4%, the Town’s taxpayers are still going to be paying at least $24 million for this project. That’s at least $1.1 million in debt service every year for 20 years — property tax revenues that could go to other capital projects or to paying competitive school/town employee salaries and COLAs. In presumably-now-very-outdated Library Project Cash Flow projections issued in September 2022, interest alone was projected at around $9 million, which I assume the Trustees are expecting the Town to pay? [And it could be that that Cash Flow Analysis was based on the very old $36 million project cost estimate? Source: https://www.amherstma.gov/DocumentCenter/View/63372/8b-Debt-Projections—Jones-Library—September-19-2022 ]
I appreciate Trustee Bob Pam’s realism and pragmatism. He is not alone in doubting the viability of this project. Even the MBLC wrote that they won’t give the second grant payment until after the town signs a contract with a building contractor – an indication that they too have concerns about viability. I’m just sorry your words are falling on deaf ears, Bob.
The current March 19th Jones Library Building Project Newsletter contains the following misleading reason that the Trustees insist on staying the course with their push to renovate and expand the Jones Library:
” . . . the need to keep faith with the more than 65% of the voters who endorsed the Jones Library Building project at the ballot box.”
The only time this project was presented to Amherst residents for a vote was November 2, 2021. Of the town’s 16,187 registered voters, only 5,043 (31%) choose to weigh in. Of those, 3,231 voted yes and this is where the highly touted 65% figure comes from, when, I fact, only 20% of Amherst’s registered voters voiced their approval.
Not only did fewer than a third of the town’s voters participate in the November 2021 referendum, but the public was operating without the benefit of important information: that the annual Jones Library attendance had fallen by more than 40% over the previous fifteen years, and that trustees had received a recommendation from a professional library consultant describing ways to reconfigure existing space to achieve programming needs. These facts were withheld by the library project leaders, and the Town Council neglected to do their homework before committing to a $35.3 million borrowing authorization — the largest for a capital project in the town’s history at the time.
Leading up to the referendum, library patrons were continually bombarded by propagandist newsletters explaining why the town needed to support the library expansion. Advocacy communications like these by public employees are prohibited by the state Office of Campaign and Political Finance. Nevertheless, more than one-third of the voters voted “no” in the library referendum. The number voting “yes” did not meet the Massachusetts standard of a two-thirds supermajority required to authorize municipal borrowing.
And now the library project finds itself more than $10 million over budget.
The fact is that 65% of the voters who chose to vote, did vote in favor of the project.
That’s an impressive majority.
The fact is that the Trustees just voted unanimously in favor of the project yet again. Why wasn’t that reported in the article?
The library project will make this town better. It will help our students succeed, it will help New Americans gain access to important skills, and will positively impact thousands of children, families, job seekers, scholars and others in myriad ways each year.
I look forward to the day when we can all gather in the Jones to celebrate what happens when a community rallies behind a well-thought out, well-designed, and highly needed capital project.
“That’s an impressive majority.”
1.) How many were in the upper income levels of those that voted?
“The fact is that the Trustees just voted unanimously in favor of the project yet again. Why wasn’t that reported in the article?”
2.) Oh, but it has was in other articles. And, given their posturing until now, why wouldn’t they?
“The library project will make this town better.”
3.) In what way? How many year-round residents (have actually ever) use the facility “on-site” as a library? How many use it as a venue (interestingly) for services other town departments offer or could?
“It will help our students succeed”.
4.) More than an adequate, healthy and safe new school, or the retention of school librarians/aides?
“….will help New Americans gain access to important skills, and will positively impact thousands of children, families, job seekers, scholars and others in myriad ways each year.
“I look forward to the day when we can all gather in the Jones to celebrate what happens when a community rallies behind a well-thought out, well-designed, and highly needed capital project.”
4.) So do the many of who oppose the current plan we believe to be none of those.
One could call this number an “impressive majority” within the specific context of those who voted on this project. But there is another “impressive majority” that has not really been discussed anywhere: The 69% of Amherst voters who chose NOT to weigh in on this question. What were their reasons for not voting on the library project? Were they not patrons of the Jones? Do they not read? Did they not care either way? Were they unaware of the project? Did they feel that their vote would not make a difference? Were they too harried with the necessities of keeping a roof over their families’ heads to even consider voting for or against this project? When I hear the term “impressive majority” that favors a major and expensive community project, I would expect widespread community support, and this is the opposite. Why did this equally “impressive majority” fail to make known their wishes about the Jones? I think that is the question we should be asking.
Those who voted for the library will not get the design they were promised nor will the modified design be delivered at a cost close to what was promised. Is it possible that many of those who voted to support the library expansion would vote for it again under the current circumstances of escalating construction costs, “design engineering” subtractions from the original plan, and increasing austerity in town that says we can’t afford to pay our educators a living wage, meet the needs of our seniors, repair our roads and sidewalks, etc..? I for one would welcome another referendum on the issue.