Cuppa Joe: Public Asks About Jones Library and Wildwood.  New CRESS Director Offers Update 

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Schematic of Jones Library viewed from the North

Jones Library viewed from the North. Pink area is slated for demolition. Source: amherstma.gov

Cuppa Joe with Town Manager Paul Bockelman, Council President Lynn Griesemer, and CRESS Director Camille Theriaque, May 10, 2024

Path Forward for Jones Library?
With the sole bid for the Jones Library expansion being $7 million over the estimates and money previously allotted for the project, several residents raised questions about the future of the project. To their consternation, Town Manager Paul Bockelman said he was exploring options for the project so that it can go forward, most likely putting the project out to bid again in the fall “because at every opportunity the town has shown it was in favor of the plans—at Town Meeting, two votes by the Town Council, and a voter referendum.” He said that there is no indication that support for the project has waned. However, Vincent O’Connor reminded him that the $35 million project voted on in 2021 was “a very different project” than the value engineered one that has been bid at $55 million. 

Maria Kopicki pointed out that as town manager he is responsible for making fiscally responsible decisions for the town and, with the significantly increased cost of the project at the same time that cuts to the schools are looming, proceeding with it is irresponsible. She added that the amount paid to Finegold Alexander Architects (FAA) and Owner’s Project Manager (OPM) Colliers has already exceeded their contracted amounts, and the town will have to continue to pay them if the project continues. When Bockelman replied that he was not aware of the contracted amounts, Kopicki said she had obtained them with a public records request: in March alone, the town  paid $90,000 to FAA and Colliers. 

Toni Cunningham asked who would be responsible for the cost overrun for work already done if the envisioned ends and the Massachusetts Board of Library Commission (MBLC) grant money needs to be repaid. The Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) with the library states that if the project is halted,  the Library Trustees will cover $1.8 million of the cost of repairs on the library within three years, but the amount spent has already risen to $2.3 million as of the end of April. Bockelman replied that the town is ultimately responsible. The MBLC grant requires that construction be started by July 1, 2024, so the town will need an extension if rebidding is planned. 

Two representatives of the board of Friends of the Jones, Kelly Erwin and Elaine Donoghue, were present. Erwin thanked Bockelman for working to further the expansion project. The two claimed that fundraising is on track, despite the fact that the library has failed to meet its first payment to the town;  $2 million was due on January 31, 2024 and the library is still $900,000 behind. They insisted that the payment schedule is not part of the Trustees’ agreement with the town, but was simply presented to the council when it was voting on whether to allow an increase of another $10 million in borrowing. (That payment schedule was included as an attachment to the MOA). Bockelman said that the library’s failure to meet the deadline is inconsequential because the town will not be spending money on the project until construction begins. Several members of the audience objected, saying the town is spending money on planning every month.

The Friends board members insisted that repair of the library would cost more than the expansion, based on a 2021 Kuhn, Riddle estimate, but others protested that that plan was too out-of-date to reasonably count on  (see also here). The expansion supporters made the argument  that people who had contributed to the  expansion will withdraw their donations if the project is canceled, and Griesemer concurred that her personal donation was for the building project only.  But Maura Keene said she does not want her money to go to the expansion project, but would happily contribute to a more reasonable repair project. Ken Rosenthal agreed that many residents and donors support the library, not a specific project. Kopicki noted that some of the money, such as the $1 million in Community Preservation Act funds, could be used on a repair project.

Many Future Uses Proposed for Wildwood School
Ira Bryck urged Bockelman to consider using Wildwood school for various town programs that currently lack space, and that the 81,000 square foot school, which will be vacant in fall of 2026, could provide space for a senior center, youth empowerment center, English as a Second Language (ESL) programs, a black box theater, an early childhood program, and other uses. (Some of these are housed in the current library building.)  Wildwood’s location near the center of town and its ample parking make it too valuable an asset for the town to sell to a developer. Kopicki also suggested that it could be used for swing space when the DPW or other departments need temporary office space. 

Bockelman seemed to agree, but cautioned that the building still belongs to the school department, and the town is unsure about the condition of the building and what would need to be done to make it  usable for those services. The long hallways in schools are not ideal for a senior center, he said, and recently constructed senior centers have been dedicated to one purpose. Seniors do not want to share space with teenagers, he said. However, several participants pointed out that there is ample space in the building for separate functions, and that the town could begin planning or making repairs. 

CRESS Moving Forward Under New Director
New CRESS Director Camille Theriaque celebrated her 30th day on the job with a team-building ax-throwing activity, using soft axes purchased from Costco. Over her first month, she has been working with dispatch to specify what types of calls can go to CRESS and which should go to the police and fire departments, as well as developing a metric to track referrals. She noted that CRESS has been active in the Survival Center and the Jones Library, and has begun building relationships with teens in the high school cafeteria. She has not yet reached out to the school’s restorative justice coordinator. This past week, she said, police called CRESS for help responding to a mental health situation. CRESS is able to spend more time in a situation and connect residents to needed support services. 

Referring to the spirited discussion about the library expansion, Theriaque  joked that people on the different sides could use CRESS to mediate.

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3 thoughts on “Cuppa Joe: Public Asks About Jones Library and Wildwood.  New CRESS Director Offers Update 

  1. Eugène Ionesco & Maura Keene have teamed up here in a new 3-part play featuring

    • The Manager

    • Three Usual Suspects

    • A Pair of Storytellers

    • The President

    • Another President

    • The Consultant

    and finally, from far out in left field

    • An Axe Thrower

    What we’re looking forward to soon is the theatre review burying the proverbial hatchet, recognizing the absurdity of this play, and — rather than demolishing and expanding Scene One — just thoughtfully repairs it.

  2. Perhaps the UMass Chancellor could be apprised of CRESS’s services instead of hauling in the town police (and the state police) to augment a UMass police crackdown on peaceful protesters.

  3. Since this town has 4 other libraries, and all have access to the inter-library book sharing, and as the town needs a senior center, I think The Jones Library space could be so ideal for that purpose.

    My family will not be able to enjoy visiting this library after the bajillion dollar spending bonanza takes away funds for their schools, while traversing roads in treacherous disrepair, to build this proverbial Pyramid.

    So grateful that there are many other libraries locally.

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