Library Relocation May Force Early Town Council Vote On Funding
Alternative Repair Plan Emerges
Jones Library News Highlights For The Week Of March 20, 2023
Town Manager Wants Council Decision On Funding Library Project ‘As Early As Possible’
At last week’s Jones Library Building Committee meeting, Will Fernandez of Colliers Project Leaders unveiled plans for distributing library services across seven Amherst locations during the two years that the planned renovation and expansion will be under construction.
Portions of the Jones operation will be moved to Research Park Drive off Old Belchertown Rd., three spaces in the North Amherst Mill District, the former Boys and Girls Club on Cottage St. near the high school, and the two branch libraries — the Monson Memorial Library in South Amherst and the newly renovated North Amherst Library.
The plan is still being formalized and awaits approval by the library trustees. The cost of designing, fitting out and renting the interim spaces is estimated to be $552,350. The project has budgeted $150,000 for moving and $500,000 for operating out of the temporary locations for 24 months.
Fernandez confirmed that total cost for the current plan exceeds the budget.
To meet the requirements of a $13.8 million grant awarded by the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners (MBLC), all Jones Library materials and programs must be made available during the construction period.
According to the current project schedule, designing, soliciting bids and contracting for the interim spaces is to start at the beginning of this May, with build out scheduled for October.
During the meeting’s public comment period, Library Trustee Treasurer Bob Pam noted that the library move is scheduled to begin several months before a final determination by the Town Council on whether the project is financially feasible. The public has been told that this decision will be made in February 2024 after renovation-expansion construction bids have been received and costs better nailed down.
Town Manager Paul Bockelman responded, “We don’t want to be signing contracts that we’re not going to fulfill, so we want the council to take its action or get the final approval as early as we possibly can.”
The project schedule calls for updated construction cost estimates to be obtained at the 75% mark of the Design Development phase in May. The budget shortfall represented by the new estimates and an assessment of how much money the Library Capital Campaign has raised toward covering the gap will provide an indication of whether the project is financially viable to continue.
The library project budget was recently pegged at $46.1 million, more than $10 million over the original $35.3 million budget toward which the Town of Amherst has committed $15.8 million. Should the Town Council decide to pull the plug on the project, it appears that it will not be in time to direct its appropriation toward lowering the anticipated $98 million borrowing authorization for the new Fort River School which must be funded directly by property taxpayers if approved by a May 2 town wide debt exclusion override vote.
Plan B For Repairs Only Would Start With HVAC System
On Tuesday, March 21, Library Director Sharon Sharry reported on backup building project planning, sometimes referred to as “Plan B.”
“There is an internal working group — it’s me, George [Library Facilities Supervisor Hicks-Richards], Jeremiah [Town Facilities Manager Laplante], [Finance Director] Sean Mangano and [Building Inspector] Rob Morra, and we’ve met several times over the winter,” she said.
“It’s been decided that the HVAC system is the number one priority,” she reported. “So if the building project should fail to move forward, the next day the town would hire an engineer to develop a solution. That would be the most inexpensive path to moving forward.”
The building is currently operating with only three of its four boilers working due to a malfunction last December. Mangano and Laplante plan to seek a cost estimate for a replacement system over the summer.
Trustee Farah Ameen asked, “Sharon, do you have [an engineer] on speed dial because it seems like all these things take forever, so is there someone already in place?”
“No they’d have to go out to bid because of how much it’ll cost,” said Sharry.
Ameen expressed frustration, “Okay so once we get to next year then if the project doesn’t go through then there’s a whole waiting period, so we’re still in the middle of this huge mess.”
Sharry responded reassuringly, “All the processes and forms are in place. They’ll seek bids, they’ll collect the bids, they’ll be able to hire somebody pretty quickly. So I don’t think another month or however long it would take — we’ve waited this long — I don’t think that’s a concern you’d have to worry about.”
Library Trustee Alex Lefebvre raised a related question at Thursday’s meeting of the Joint Capital Planning Committee (JCPC). “Not to bring the elephant into the room, but the library [project] is not a certainty at this point because it requires an additional vote of the Town Council to appropriate the funding, and I have no idea how that’s going to go. But I want to remind this group that if the project doesn’t move forward the necessary expenditures don’t go away.”
Finance Director Mangano explained that the library project debt repayment is in the long-range capital plan. Should the Town Council opt not to continue with the renovation-expansion, the plan would need to be restructured so that funds designated for debt repayment would be repurposed for urgent repairs.
The FY24 JCPC Capital Plan shows about $1.15 million reserved for paying off library debt each year, through 2033 and beyond.
1 thought on “Library Relocation May Force Early Town Council Vote On Funding”
$175K rent for 3150 sqft over 2 years at the far end of a bus route?!
And that’s only 1/3 of these relocation costs that could be avoided if this were a true renovation — rather than a demolition/expansion?!?!
Is this what’s known as a public/private partnership, sweetheart?