Council Rushes Vote for More Borrowing for Jones Library Expansion


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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. 

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7 thoughts on “Council Rushes Vote for More Borrowing for Jones Library Expansion

  1. I concur with those people who are insisting the town should not approve of increasing the town’s liability by another $10 million dollars in borrowing.

    We need to be clear-minded about this, and not fall prey to the “sunk cost fallacy” that fools humans into throwing good money after bad.

    If the library needs to go to Plan B, and do a more affordable and modest renovation, giving us a library that befits the 19,000 library card holders, and not build for the pipe dream of the imagined 50,000 users, we’d be right-sizing this project so we can afford our several other needs, from fixing our decaying roads to building a public works building that works, and a fire station that is more urgent than a library built on the demolition of what we just finished paying for.

    I love libraries, and do my work in many of our region’s libraries, when I’m not in the mood for coffee shops. I have not seen another with such deferred maintenance as ours. The carpets are badly worn, the furniture is terrible, it leaks on valuable collections, there is untold unused space, and more. It seems purposeful, plus we’ve been told it’s been purposeful: “how can you not fix such a declining facility?” The question is obvious: who was in charge during that decline?

    Plus, it’s never at all crowded, so why build bigger?

    Plus, if you’re looking for an example of back room opacity, you need look no further. And that is resulting in more of our trademarked divisiveness, not to mention, dangerously ballooning financial exposure of our taxpayers, with huge tax bill a’comin, contrary to promises made by the library board and the town leadership.

    I understand how uncomfortable it would be to say no to the library at this point. But not as uncomfortable as saying yes. The town has a bigger obligation to the public it serves than to the private entity that is the Jones Library board of directors.

    I wish we could all have the very nicest things. But I think we’ve learned if we can’t afford them , it’s not as nice.

  2. As a relative newcomer to Amherst, I was baffled by the Jones Library ‘s grandiose expansion plans at a time when the world is moving digital until I listened to the candidate responses at The League of Women Voters forum. Every incumbent candidate emphasized that they talked extensively to library employees about what would make their jobs easier and what they needed to implement new programs. Not one mentioned the current or future needs of library users. When employees are seen as “customers”, I understand how this self-perpetuating bureaucracy designed an expensive albatross.

  3. The memorial garden behind the library has several gaping holes where mature bushes were dug up and removed–in anticipation of librsry expansion. It seems the library trustees really can’t wait to begin digging holes: practice for the financial hole they are hoping to dig into Amherst town finances in pursuit of their vanity project.

  4. reminder: all incumbent and challengers were given the opportunity to discuss the library funding during the campaign by the indy. here’s what they said

    2.Should the town pay, or be at risk for, any more than the $15.8 million (+ $9 million in debt service) that has been authorized thus far for the Jones library demolition and renovation project and if so, is there an upper limit to what the town should additionally provide?

    District 1
    Ndifreke Ette
    no answer submitted

    Vincent J. O’Connor
    No! I do not support the current Jones Library demolition/expansion project as proposed. Given the cost of the recently approved school project, we must rethink and/or scale back other major capital infrastructure projects, including the Library project.

    Cathy Schoen
    When the Council first voted to support the library project, it did so with a commitment to limit the Town general fund tax share to $15.8 million. The Council also authorized $1 million of Community Preservation Act funds (financed by a surcharge on property taxes). Taken together, authorized Amherst tax-payer support for the project is nearly $17 million.

    This allocation should remain the upper limit of Town tax resources for the project.

    We urgently need funds to support other pressing capital and operating budget needs. These include our roads and a DPW building that is near a state of collapse.

    If financing, including grant support falls far short of costs, we may need to pivot to repair and renovate the existing building. To do otherwise would put the Town and the Library endowment at high financial risk.

    District 2
    Allegra Clark
    I believe the library project, which is listed as a medium priority in the FY24 Capital Improvement Program (while the DPW and South Amherst Fire Station are listed as CRITICAL) should be reevaluated completely. I have concerns about the fundraising for the project. I have concerns as to the actual costs, and the implications for reaching climate change goals with some of the proposed changes to materials. I love books and libraries, but we must prioritize wisely so as to not squander the operating budget of the town and the library.

    Lynn Griesemer
    The Town of Amherst should not pay or risk any more for the Jones Library renovation and expansion; AND IT DOES NOT NEED TO. Financially here is how it breaks down: • The Town of Amherst has committed to a maximum of $15.8 million to the Jones Library Building Project • The Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners (MBLC) initially committed $13.8 million to the project, and with the tireless help of Senator Comerford and Representative Domb, MBLC has committed another $1.6 million making MBLC’s commitment $15.4 million. • The remaining funds must be raised by the Trustees. As of October 1, they have raised close to $8 million of the $14 million they must raise. The payment from the Trustees is outlined in the original MOU (and amendment) between the Town and the Trustees. And every effort is being made to not put the endowment at risk in order to reimburse the Town. How Bonding for major Capital Projects that receive state funding works. As with the Elementary School project, the Town of Amherst must bond the project for the total amount. However, MBLC payments are made on an annual basis over 5 years (now 6 years with the additional amount). In a similar manner the Jones Library Trustees must reimburse the Town on an annual basis over 5 years. Finally, you only borrow money as it is needed to pay for costs of the project as they are incurred, so with each year the Town’s debt decreases.

    Amber Cano Martin

    District 3
    Patrick Drumm
    From my understanding after touring the library this past Saturday, the town is legally on the hook for any outstanding balance based on the grant that was accepted. My answer though is no, if it comes down to it and the library is unable or unwilling to come up with the necessary funds to complete the project then the town should move to walk away from the project altogether. I understand that the trustees are exploring taking out loans or potentially using the endowment to cover the shortfall if the private donations don’t come through but with other town buildings in worse shape I believe that ultimately the town missed the mark on prioritizing this over the firehouse and DPW projects, not to mention the decaying infrastructure in desperate need of repairs.

    Heather Hala Lord
    I do not believe the town should pay or be at risk for more than the $15.8 million that has been authorized for the Jones Library demolition and renovation project. I have heard confidence from the Jones Library Trustees that they will be able to raise their portion through donations, grants, and other such avenues. That being said, what is the responsibility of the town if they are unable to raise that money and the building is halfway constructed? I believe there could be a negotiation where perhaps the town lends the money above the $15.8 and lays out a payment plan to be reimbursed. The town is in the process of four renovation/improvement projects that are going to cost millions of dollars. All necessary and also, how do we manage the budget to afford them? Some of the business development in town is to help increase our revenue which would help offset some of these costs. We also need to find other ways, perhaps out-of-the-box thinking, to assist us with paying for these building projects.

    George Ryan
    The Town’s share is fixed. I would not be in favor of any additional expenditure of Town funds to support the renovation and expansion of the Jones. The success of the capital campaign to date (which is still in the silent phase and has yet to go public) combined with the increase in MBLC support due to the extraordinary efforts of State Senator Jo Comerford and State Rep Mindy Domb, the receipt of Federal funds through the hard work of Congressman Jim McGovern, $1M grant from the NEH to fund the Humanities Center, and the continued pursuit by the Capital Campaign of foundation and corporate funding combined with historical tax credits leave little doubt that the project can move forward without any further financial involvement by the Town.

    District 4
    Anika Lopes
    The Town will not pay more than $15.8M, the amount supported by voters, for the Jones Library expansion and renovation project.

    Pam Rooney
    The Council will need to vote on a complete project and/or full amount of debt service. I advocated for a smaller project and a reasonable Plan B. I support a Town contribution up to, but not more than, what was already promised by the Previous Council. I can support that commitment only IF there is a legal commitment by the Trustees that they finance any outstanding difference between construction price and funds raised to-date.

    Jennifer Taub
    The town has committed — and the voters have authorized — $15.8 million (plus debt service) for the Jones Library expansion and renovation. I do not believe the town should be at risk for more than the amount taxpayers have approved. The Library Trustees have indicated that they will commit to filling any gap between the Town’s commitment of $15.8 million (plus debt service) and the total of gifts, grants and other receipts raised from public and private sources. We must hold them to this in order to preserve funding for our sorely needed – and long overdue – new DPW headquarters and fire station.

    District 5
    Ana Devlin Gauthier
    The voters of Amherst authorised the Jones Library Building project spending by nearly 65%. At that time it was clear that the Town would contribute 15.8 million. I do not believe that the Town should pay for more than that, and I trust the Library Trustees to manage the project to ensure that remains true.

    Jamie Daniels
    Our libraries are vital civic institutions. If elected, I will work to see the Jones library project, which is well underway, through to completion. The town has a shared cost agreement with the library, and I trust that the library trustees will continue to successfully raise the remaining funds needed to complete the renovation/expansion. Beyond the initial authorization of $15.8 million plus debt service, any additional spending by the town should undergo careful evaluation to ensure that we do not overextend our financial resources. Knowing very clearly the impact all capital projects have on our taxpayers, I will be vigilant in monitoring project expenses and will also work tirelessly to identify funding support for the projects, as well as for the other capital projects that must also be completed, particularly a new Fire Station and DPW facility.

    Mandi Jo Hanneke
    As a Councilor, I voted to fund the Jones Library Building Project. It is a major step in moving our public buildings off fossil fuels and addressing social and racial inequity. It will provide necessary additional meeting space for the ESL tutoring program, a dedicated teen space, a new Humanities Center, and additional computers for accessing the internet and computer programs. Because of the project’s extraordinary program, we are leveraging the town’s investment by almost two-to-one with additional state, federal, and private funding. In November 2021, 65% of voters approved the project. It is my understanding that a technicality in state law requires the Council to vote an increased borrowing amount, but that the Town’s share will not increase. As with any vote, I will consider the facts carefully, including information on how the Town’s costs for this project compare to the costs to the Town if the project were pivoted to a repair-only project. Original repair-only estimates indicated that repairs alone would cost the town about the same amount as the full expansion, but the Town would lose the climate action and social and racial equity benefits offered by the expansion. I have not seen evidence that a repair-only option has not suffered from the same inflation as the far superior renovation and expansion project we have chosen.

    Matt Holloway
    No, the taxpayers have authorized this borrowing through a vote. Additional funds would need to be made up by the Jones Library Trustees through fundraising. If fundraising does not make up the expense, the Trustees should follow through with their commitment to either borrow the difference against their endowment or to use their endowment itself.

    Andrew Steinberg
    The Town allocated $15.8 million. The project can and should be completed without increasing that commitment.

    Ellisha Walker
    I firmly believe that the town should not have to pay or be at risk for any more than the $15.8 million already authorized, in addition to the $9 million in debt service, for the Jones Library Project. Our town faces significant financial constraints within our operating budget, and we also have pressing capital projects that demand our attention and funding. For instance, our firefighters and Department of Public Works (DPW) workers require adequate staffing and improved working conditions urgently. It would not be fiscally responsible to allocate more funds to the library project until and unless we have addressed these essential capital needs. While I understand the value of library services and community resources, we must prioritize our limited resources to address critical infrastructure and public services first. Setting an upper limit on additional town contributions is necessary to ensure that we maintain fiscal responsibility and allocate resources where they are most urgently required. We must balance our commitment to the library with the need to address other pressing community needs and prioritize projects that have a more immediate impact on the well-being of our residents.

  5. In addition to the overblown library project negatively impacting the Town’s ability to finance more pressing capital needs, we must remember just how the library’s operating budget is funded.
    The Town provides 75% of the library’s revenue, this year at $2,213,530. The library’s endowment provides almost 12% of the library’s revenue, currently totaling $351,501. See
    If the library project comes to fruition, and the Friends of the Jones Library cannot raise the funds it has promised towards the project, then the library’s endowment will be decimated in order to pay back the Town. The Town would then need to fund that additional 12% of the library’s operating budget in perpetuity.
    Oh, the endowment is supposed to be for perpetuity.

  6. Allegra Clark raises a very important point. Plans to address the replacement of the 108-year-old DPW facility and outmoded Central Fire Station have been ranked by the Town’s capital planners as “critical” while the need for the Jones Library project is considered “medium.” See

    The high priority DPW and fire station projects languish while a few Town leaders continue to propose throwing millions more at the continually rising cost of the library plan. What are they thinking?

  7. It’s amazing how more and more money can be found for this library project but so little for CRESS, DEI, teacher and para salaries, and adding personnel to the Sustainability office to implement our climate action plan which is mostly sitting rotting on a shelf. Funny how that works, huh?

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