The agenda for the November 13 Town Council meeting includes a bond authorization for an additional $10 million for the proposed Jones Library expansion to bring the amount borrowed up to the latest construction cost estimate of $46 million (from the $36 million in 2022). The meeting packet does not include the actual detailed estimate, although the Jones Library Trustees supposedly received it on October 30.
The agenda item for the November 13 meeting states that a motion will be made to refer the bond authorization to the Finance Committee, which is scheduled to meet at 1 p.m. on Tuesday, November 14. The council will subsequently hold a public hearing and vote on the bond authorization on Monday, November 20. Because of the Veteran’s Day holiday, the earliest that the council and Finance Committee will see the detailed estimate will be Monday morning, the day of the meeting. The Indy requested a copy of the itemized estimate on November 2, and was told by the Town Clerk that the earliest the document would be provided is November 17, leaving the Indy and the public little time to vet the estimate before a public hearing and anticipated vote on November 20. Nine councilors most vote to support the additional borrowing in order for it to pass. The town has offered no explanation for the urgency of this vote or why that vote and the associated public hearing have been scheduled during the week of the Thanksgiving holiday.
The original memorandum of agreement between the town and the trustees obligates the town to pay $15.8 million toward the project, with the trustees contributing $6 million through fundraising. But the town is responsible for borrowing the full cost of the project up front and paying the interest on that amount. The town also will cover “any direct and reasonable fundraising costs and expenses incurred by the Friends of the Jones Library (currently $277,000). Because of escalating construction costs, a revised Memorandum of Agreement signed by Town Manager Paul Bockelman and the library trustees on October 27, 2022 requires the trustees to be responsible for any increased cost over the original estimate of $36 million. However, again, the town must borrow the entire amount for the project up front and pay the debt service on that money, with reimbursement from the trustees required two years after a certificate of occupancy is issued for the renovated building. Any shortfall in fundraising by the trustees will have to be covered by the town.
Library Treasurer Bob Pam has said that the cost estimates have not increased since the October, 2022 estimate. This has not been the experience of the Shutesbury Library where cost estimates increased by 25% from July, 2022 to August, 2023 necessitating a reduction in the proposed footprint of the project by 10%. Eleven municipalities in the Massachusetts Board of Libraries grant program have canceled plans to build new libraries because of escalating costs.
The Historical Commission approved the external design of the project at its October 19 meeting, and the Planning Board will begin its site plan review on November 15. Neither body has considered the changes planned for the interior of the original 1928 building that is on the state and national historic registers. According to the current plans, only the front of the building will be retained, and the director’s office to the right of the main entrance will be replaced by an automatic book sorting machine.
The project is set to go out to bid in early 2024 with construction to occur in 2025.