Assessment of Jones Library Financial Statements Reveals Inaccuracies

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Photo: https://www.joneslibrary.org/

Throughout the long, contentious, and ever-costlier history of the Jones Library Renovation-expansion plan, critics have decried project promoters’ use of deception, secrecy, and propaganda to sell the community on investing an unprecedented amount of public funds in the project.  We take a look at recent statements from project backers and consider their truthfulness.

See related Opinion: Frequently Unanswered Questions. What Will the Proposed Jones Library Project Really Cost the Town?

Library Project Construction Sub-Bids Came in Under Budget – Library Trustees President Austin Sarat
At the April 22 Jones Library Board of Trustees meeting, President Austin Sarat reported on the bids submitted for 15 subcontractor trades such as masonry, plumbing and electrical work.  The Sub-Bid period closed on April 9.

“The bids that we have so far received are slightly under budget,” stated Sarat.

A sheet titled Interim Updates included in the meeting packet reported “Sub-bids – under budget by $84,000.”

Through a public record request the Amherst Indy has obtained a document called Final Sub Bid Tabulation that appears to be the source of this claim.

The document first tabulates the budgeted amounts for the 15 trade categories which total $14,570,791.  It then totals the low bids for each trade and comes up with $14,486,825, or $83,966 less than the budgeted total.

However, there were no bids received for elevators, which had been allotted $390,700 in the budget. A note explained that the elevator work would be added to the general contractor scope of work.

Instead of carrying over an allowance of $390,700 in the low sub-bid column, the tabulation used a value of $0 for elevators,

Clearly the general contractor will not build elevators for free, so the low sub-bid total should be at least $390,700 higher, resulting in the sub-bids being $306,734 over budget.

In addition, the document notes state that the low plumbing bidder pulled out on 4/12 because it had not carried the cost of “Build America, Buy America” imposed on recipients of federal grants. The next lowest plumbing bidder was $53,000 higher at $963,000, resulting in a total variance of $359,734 over budget.

And finally, it was reported in the last addendum to the Construction Documents posted on April 26 that for unexplained reasons the electrical work sub-bid was being thrown out and the general contractor would be required to carry an allowance of $3,300,000 for electrical work.  This cost was $100,000 higher than the previous low bid for electrical work and raised the total sub-bid variance to nearly half a million dollars — $459,734 over budget.

Sub-Bid Budget Variances (Corrected).  Source: joneslibrary.org and biddocs.com

Changes to Construction Documents During the Bid Period Were Minimal – Finegold Alexander Architects Principal Ellen Anselone
At the Jones Library Building Committee (JLBC) meeting of May 7, Town Councilor Pam Rooney asked for an explanation of the numerous updates to the construction documents that led to three delays in the bid closing date and which Rooney felt may have played a role in the single, unexpectedly high general contractor bid of $42,742,000, or $7.2 million over the estimated construction cost.

Ellen Anselone, principal of Finegold Alexander Architects, the design firm hired by the town to prepare construction documents, demurred.

Anselone claimed that the 24 addenda representing changes and clarifications to the construction documents and issued over a period of 12 weeks and across three delays, were due to addenda not being bundled as they might have been before the days of online bidding.

“With Biddocs [the online bidding system] every time they got a piece of paper they made it an addendum so it increased the number,” she said.

“The substance in the addenda was minor,” Anselone contended. “I don’t think the addenda drove the cost.”

Owner’s Project Manager (OPM) Tim Alix of Colliers added that some of the addenda were reiterating information that was already in the construction documents. “We’re trying to look for answers,” he said.

A review of the 24 addenda by the Amherst Indy concluded that the information they contained was hardly trivial, nor were the addenda delivered in a timely manner.

The addenda totaled 1178 pages that added or replaced several entire sections and dozens of architectural drawings as well as answering 100 Requests for Information from prospective bidders. Delays stretched the bid period to 15 weeks, with seven addenda published after sub-bidding was already closed.

Addenda Summary (click to enlarge). Source biddocs.com

Other than pointing to a plumbing code requirement that led to the first bid period extension, neither the Town Manager, Colliers, nor FAA have offered an explanation for the large number of significant changes.

Fundraising Has Not Fallen Behind – Jones Library Capital Campaign Manager Ginny Hamilton
Following the JLBC meeting Ginny Hamilton, Jones Library Capital Campaign (JLCC) Manager, emailed a status report to her list of contacts.

She described options for moving the $7-million-over-appropriation project forward that Town Manager Paul Bockelman had outlined at the meeting.

See related Town Manager to Explore Moving $53M Library Project Forward

Hamilton painted an upbeat picture while asking her audience to “consider emailing the Library Trustees, Town Councilors, and Town Manager, expressing your continued support for the project and encouraging them to find a way forward.”

She omitted any mention of a budget crisis at the regional schools, the continuing delay of long-planned DPW Facility and Central Fire Station replacements, or how the uncertain library project may be bumping into and interfering with the $97 million Fort River Elementary project set to go out to bid this summer.

Hamilton did assure readers that fundraising had not fallen behind.  She reported that the JLCC had secured commitments of $9.5 million and that “we remain confident we can reach our continuing goal to raise $7 million more by the time the project is complete.”

Town Councilors who put faith in a cash flow model prepared by the Town Manager, Town Council leadership, and the JLCC before voting to approve borrowing another $10 million to cover a library project budget gap back in December may beg to differ.

The JLCC had indicated it would remit a total of $2.5 million to the Town by January 1, 2024 to cover project costs that have so far accumulated to $2.3 million.  In fact, Town Treasurer Jennifer LaFountain reported on May 7 that only $1.6 million has been remitted.

And now the lowest construction bid places the fundraising goal another $7.2 million out of reach.

The Jones Library Renovation-expansion faces a June 30 deadline to start construction.  This time limit is codified in the state regulations controlling all library projects that have received grant awards in the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners 2016-17 round of construction grants.

The fundraising mountain for the $53 million project has clearly grown steeper.  If the summit can’t be reached, it is the Town of Amherst and its taxpayers who must make up the difference if the project as designed and grant-funded is to move forward.

See related Town Leaders Silent as Library Misses First Payment of $2M

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