Jones Library News Highlights For The Week Of June 5, 2023
State Funds Will Support Private Portion of Library Project Cost
Amherst’s Jones Library will receive an additional $1,695,158 in construction grant funding from the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners (MBLC) to cover pandemic-related cost escalations to its renovation-expansion plan originally priced at $36.3 million. The money supplements a $13.8 million MBLC grant awarded in 2021.
In September 2022 an estimate showed the project cost ballooning to $49.9 million, representing a budget gap of $13.6 million. An updated cost estimate is expected later this month.
Amherst joins 11 other grant-funded library projects receiving a total of $11.2 million in escalation payments.
The Jones Library renovation-expansion project, if successful, will introduce sustainability and accessibility improvements to the historic landmark that was built in 1928. However, other aspects of the plan have been controversial, such as the addition of 15,000 square feet to a library that has seen steadily declining attendance since 2006, and the demolition and rebuilding of a 15,000 square foot addition completed in 1993 and not fully paid off until 2021. The Amherst Town Council has approved contributing $15.8 million in town funds to the library project while also underwriting the construction of a new $97.5 million elementary school. Amherst’s annual town budget is about $90 million.
In hopes of keeping the financially troubled project alive, the Jones Library Capital Campaign has lobbied politicians to provide several million dollars in additional grants, including a $1.1 million federal omnibus spending earmark, a $1 million grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, and a $200,000 Massachusetts Cultural Council grant.
While praised by some as a boon to downtown Amherst, other citizens see the plethora of government money being directed to the nearly $50 million library project as an example of misplaced priorities and fiscal mismanagement, arguing that Amherst has many more serious needs than a larger library. Crises faced in Amherst’s FY24 budget include the layoff of more than a dozen teachers, finding permanent funding for the new Community Responder Department, and addressing a $40 million backlog of town road repairs.
The grant requests, which were solicited by the private non-profit Friends of the Jones Library Capital Campaign, were structured so that the Town may not be able to use the funds for isolated library repairs and improvements, but only if the full renovation-expansion project moves forward. Furthermore, the millions of public dollars in state and federal grants do not reduce the $15.8 million of taxpayer funds approved by the Town Council, but instead lower the private financial obligation of the Jones Library, Inc. and its fundraisers.
The Library reports that the Capital Campaign has cleared $7.5 million in fundraising toward a total commitment of $16,516,676. The $1.69 million MBLC escalation grant falls short of the $4.44 million in pandemic-related cost escalation grants projected in a recent Building Project Funding Sources report.
Building Committee Meets In Person To Decide on Bricks And Ramp Design
The Jones Library Building Committee (JLBC) met on Thursday, June 8 to review recommendations from Finegold Alexander Architects (FAA) on exterior material colors and placement of a ramp on the second floor. The meeting was held in the Woodbury Room of the library. No Zoom webinar access was provided, and the meeting was not recorded. No meeting agenda or packet of exhibits have yet been published on the JLBC website.
FAA showed bricks in various shades of gray. They recommend using bricks that are less varied in their color so as not to compete with the 1928 portion. The roof of the new addition will be metal, standing seam, with vertical joints. The new window frames will be off-white.
The original slate covering the entire roof of the original 1928 building, which is listed on the national and state registry of historic places, will be replaced by synthetic slate of the same color. No reviews by the Amherst or Massachusetts Historical Commissions have been reported or announced.
The JLBC agreed with FAA’s recommended color palette. Another in-person meeting is planned for July when FAA will bring larger samples which will include mortar.
FAA’s design of the 2nd floor of the new addition calls for the floor level to vary from that of the floor of the original building by 18 inches, due to differing ceiling heights. The current schematic includes a large (10’ wide by 25’ long) ramp for accessibility between the two floor levels. However, a need for more space for a reference desk, soft seating and computers has been deemed to take priority over the ramp. FAA recommends removing the ramp from the design and replacing it with a set of stairs next to the elevator, which will also have a half-stop between the two floor levels. It was reported that the ramp is not a code requirement. The JLBC voted unanimously to strike it from the design.
An updated cost estimate for the project is expected “within the next couple days.”
Colliers Owner’s Project Manager Tim Alix outlined next steps. The JLBC must approve FAA moving into the Construction Documents Phase of the project. Additional approvals for which costs will be incurred include:
- Hazmat consultant
- Destruction testing
- Geotechnical analysis
- Phase 1 site assessment
- Permitting process
- State Plumbing Board
- Interim space for library operation