Cash-strapped Library Project To Get New Cost Estimate As Bills Keep On Coming



Jones Library News Highlights For The Week Of April 10, 2023

Size of Current Budget Gap will be Better Understood by End of May
The Jones Library Building Committee (JLBC) welcomed a new project management team and reviewed the schedule for the remainder of the Design Development (DD) phase of the project that will run through the end of May.

At the April 13 JLBC meeting Will Fernandez of Colliers Project Leaders took over from former Owner’s Project Manager Craig DiCarlo who departed Colliers last month for another job opportunity.  Fernandez reported that the project is on track to have a complete set of DD construction plans by the end of April and will work with estimators through most of May to get an updated cost estimate.  Two independent cost estimates obtained in August 2022 projected that completing the library renovation-expansion would cost between $43.2 million and $49.6 million, or $7 -$13 million over the original budget for which the Town Council approved a $35.3 million borrowing authorization. Hopes are that construction costs have decreased enough, and library fundraising has generated enough revenues that the project can move forward without increasing the Town’s contribution of $15.8 million from the capital budget.

Library Building Project Schedule as of April 13, 2023. Source:

In early June, after the DD package has been signed off by the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners (MBLC) who have awarded Amherst a $13.8 million construction grant, the JLBC will consider additional cost reductions as necessary, and put its stamp of approval on the final design.

Fernandez noted that the task of applying to the Massachusetts Historical Commission for state historic tax credits has been added to the schedule to meet an April 30 application deadline. This is despite the project design never having been vetted by the Amherst Historical Commission as reportedly required by state law.

Town Renegotiates Colliers OPM Contract And Pays Bills
Amherst Finance Director Sean Mangano and Colliers Project Leaders have agreed to a contract amendment that increases the fees owed to Colliers through the Design and Bidding Phase of the library project to compensate for additional months of schematic design.

Mangano estimated the added cost to the town to be “in the $20,000 range” and submitted four months of unpaid invoices totaling $43,912 for approval by the JLBC.  The total Colliers fee for Design and Bidding services is projected to be $230,538.

Asked where the unanticipated addition to the Colliers contract would come from, Mangano replied that it would need to fit within the project budget and so would need to “come out of either contingency or another line item that we identify savings in.”

Mangano also received JLBC approval to pay Finegold Alexander Architects’ invoice of $136,250 for March design services.

What is the Jones Library Project Costing Taxpayers?
While the Amherst Finance Department has not projected the contribution of the library renovation-expansion to Amherst property tax bills, recent estimates for the Fort River Elementary School Building Project provide a benchmark for calculating a ballpark measure.

On April 3 the Town Council approved financial order FY23-06C which includes an authorization to borrow $92,492.247 for construction of the new Fort River School. This debt will be repaid directly by property taxpayers if voters pass a debt exclusion override ballot question on May 2.  Finance Director Mangano has estimated that paying back the borrowing of $92.5 million will cost the owner of the average-valued ($447K) Amherst home $451 per year in added taxes for the 30-year term of the debt.

In April 2021 the Town Council approved order FY21-06C which authorized borrowing $35,279,000 to fund the library renovation-expansion.  The library borrowing is 38% of the size of the school borrowing, so one might loosely infer that the library tax implication, though already accounted for in existing tax bills, is 38% as large as the school impact of $471 per year.  This yields a library project tax impact to the average Amherst homeowner of $172 per year for the duration of the debt.

Factors such as cash flow, interest rates and term lengths will affect the accuracy of this comparison, but it can be considered a rough guide. It certainly belies previous statements from novice town councilors that “the library project has no affect on our tax bills.”

A more precise assessment by the Town of the tax impact of the library project would be welcome.  In the meantime, property owners should not forget that Amherst 4th quarter real estate tax payments are due on May 1.

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12 thoughts on “Cash-strapped Library Project To Get New Cost Estimate As Bills Keep On Coming

  1. “Hopes are that construction costs have decreased enough”?

    Who exactly is “hoping” here? Is this simply the wishful thinking of most Jones Library Trustees (flying in the face of reality, or at least probability, as in “Hopes are that if we play often enough, then we will win the lottery jackpot”)?

    Or have costs “decreased” due to a reduction of features planned for the demolished/expanded Jones — and because the quality of the construction craftwork & materials will be compromised?

  2. Thank you for your thorough reporting on the evolving fiscal impacts of the Jones renovation project. It looks to me like your projected impact on the taxpayer assumes that the final cost of the library project is based on the original borrowing estimate. But, as I have pointed out before, even if the trustees raise the money for the cost overruns, the town will have to borrow that money up front and carry the debt service on that borrowing until two years after the library reopens. I don’t see those costs accounted for anywhere in the town’s or the trustees’ discussions. So I see your estimate of the likely impacts on Amherst taxpayers as pretty conservative. I expect the impact to be considerably greater. – with the overall costs coming in at well over the $50M (and $7-$13M over budget)currently projected. There are many questions for which taxpayers have a right to straight answers. To date – the town and the trustees have been less than forthcoming.

  3. Thank you, Art, for your unsatisfied requests for answers on the Jones Library project.

    Massachusetts campaign finance and conflict of interest laws restrict public officials from lobbying for or against ballot questions. E.g. the Chair of the ESBC has acknowledged that she is not permitted to encourage passage of the debt exclusion override for the new school when she is giving presentations on the plan.

    I question whether town leaders’ withholding of information for fear of affecting the outcome of the May 2 override vote might also cross the line of impropriety. Should facts about the library project lead voters to conclude that there has been fiscal mismanagement driven by a political agenda, they might be less likely to support the tax increase for the school.

    On a related issue, and with due respect for Matt Holloway’s hard work and integrity, how can he ethically serve on the Finance Committee — a body that has played a large role in Amherst’s budget and taxation woes — and also be the co-chair of the Vote Yes for Amherst Schools PAC?

  4. The town needs to stop pouring money into this project and reassess the major needs- school, fire station, DPW building. Costs are escalating, property taxes are rising. The most prudent approach would be to reevaluate our needs and finances. A ranked project vote by town residents could guide the devision making process

  5. I agree with Nancy Gilbert, a voice of reason in all of this. As I wrote to the town council, my 4 children had excellent educations in the Amherst School system. As my youngest graduated from ARHS in 1983, I know that people before me paid taxes supporting the education my offspring had. I believe that investing in the education of our children is the most important action we can take, and I fully support the new school. Safety is prime, and a fire station to cover the expanse of south Amherst is as important in many ways as the school. Let us work to get those in place , then the DPW building. I love and support libraries however this current project is worrisome for many identified reasons. I know my taxes went for the 1993 renovation which apparently will become history if the library trustees have their way.

  6. Thanks, Jeff, for reporting yet again that the Massachusetts (rather than Amherst) Historical Commission (MHC) has never vetted this huge demolition/construction project for compliance with the mandatory Massachusetts Historic Preservation Law. The Town (Council) and Jones Library Trustees have had nearly seven (7) years to provide the MHC with the necessary data. They have never done so.

    The Amherst Historical Commission does have responsibility for enforcing the 2017 Historic Preservation Restriction Agreement as to the Library’s exterior. But that’s beyond my scope in this comment.

    Moreover, the Town Councilors’ and Trustees’ mandatory obligations, under state law and under their grant contract, for the historic preservation of the historic Jones Library, are completely separate from their optional application for state historic tax credits.

    Yet, as reported above, these officials are nonetheless incurring hundreds of thousands of dollars in architects’ fees for “design development” of a design that the MHC has never approved. Because of this scofflaw attitude, these hundreds of thousands of dollars could well be wasted. Furthermore, the Town might have to foot 100% of the bill for this waste.

    If Councilors and Trustees keep thumbing their noses at their legal obligations, accordingly, what’s the worst that could happen? The Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners (MBLC) could refuse to provide an an additional cent in construction grant funding. Tthe Town would have to repay the $2.7 million slice of the grant that we’ve already received — plus interest. The Library would still need millions of dollars worth of repair.

    Why do I say this? Because the applicable state regulations do. See Title 605, Code of Massachusetts Regulations, Section 605 (Conditions of Eligibility for MBLC construction grant), subsection (2)(e).

    So – will these 19 Amherst electeds finally choose to comply with state law and with their grant contract? Will our Amherst Town Manager and our Amherst Town Finance Department at last break their years-long silence on this issue?

    For that matter, the Library’s architects and Owner’s Project Manager are professionals. They know perfectly well that this project fails to comply with the state historic preservation law. Will they at last blow the whistle that we’re paying them to blow?

    Or will all of them keep taking these thrilling, needless chances with our beloved Jones Library and our Amherst municipal finances?

  7. Thank you for the info sheet on historical review requirements, Hetty. It raises a couple questions.

    1. I see that the Jones Library submitted a Project Notification Form back in 2016. Does that mean that the ball is in the MHC’s court, and they have been remiss in not conducting a timely review of historical impacts?

    2. In addition to its state grant, the Jones Renovation-Expansion has been awarded $1.1 million earmark from the federal FY2023 Omnibus spending package. Does that mean that a federal historical review is also required?

    It’s too bad that Town and Library leaders have not been more transparent about the historical review process and leave us wondering who is looking out for Amherst’s historic assets.

  8. Could someone clarify what this “humanities center” is that the Jones has just received funding for? This is the first time I’ve heard this term. Is this Special Collections, or something different? Special Collections is already receiving $1 million from CPA funds. Is there a breakdown for how much the “renovation and construction” of this part of the library is expected to cost, and are these two awards to be used only for those purposes?

  9. The red triangle purporting to show the location of the Jones instead indicates a spot about 1000 feet to the west.

    What does that suggest about the rest of the report submitted to the MHC?

  10. Given the enormous design, hence funding, ramifications of MHC opinions, has anyone involved in the Jones project asked the MHC when to expect a response to the Projecy Notification Form submitted in 2016?

    If not, perhaps now would be a better, if belated, time to find out definitively whether the current design plans meet MHC requirements for funding support…

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