Jones Library Trustees Reject Project Bids



At their meeting on Monday, May 13 (video here), the Trustees of the Jones Library voted unanimously to reject all bids (the lone General Contractor bid and all subcontractor bids) received for the demolition/expansion/renovation project that would have cost approximately $55 million, more than $7 million over budget. This vote is only advisory. The Amherst Town Manager, Paul Bockelman, has the authority to accept or reject construction bids. 

The project was to be funded in part by a construction grant from the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners (MBLC). Several municipalities that were awarded grants during the same cycle as Amherst’s withdrew when costs exceeded available funding. The MBLC does not allow projects to be reduced in scope in response to higher than anticipated costs. At a Jones Library Building Committee meeting last week, Bockelman laid out a number of ways the town could respond to the lone high bid. Options ranged from stopping the project and pivoting to repairs (which would require returning the $2.8 million already received from the MBLC), attempting to re-bid in the fall (which would require the permission of the MBLC), or accepting the bid (which would require the Town Council to authorize borrowing at the new higher total project cost). 

Prior to their vote, the trustees appeared subdued. Trustee Eugene Goffredo recused himself from the discussion and vote as his spouse, Ginny Hamilton, is on the payroll of the library project capital campaign. Chair Austin Sarat reiterated the opinion of the designers (Finegold Alexander Architects) that rebidding six months from now may result in more interest and lower bids, although no evidence was offered in support of that theory. Trustee Farah Ameen asked whether rejecting the current bids meant that they would not seek additional bids at a future time. Sarat confirmed that the vote only addressed rejecting the bids received in April. Trustee Bob Pam, who will be resigning his post because he is moving out of Amherst, read a prepared statement acknowledging disappointing fundraising, describing the “odds on the project and the risks are no longer acceptable,” and calling for the pursuit of building repairs instead. Sarat agreed and asked that the buildings and facility subcommittee “take up with some urgency” planning for a repair alternative.

Pam also attempted to require a more detailed report on fundraising, capital campaign expenses, and decisions around remittances to the Town. He suggested that the capital campaign should not be making decisions alone about how much funding to withhold for fundraising expenses and how much to remit to the town. Pam moved that “The treasurer of the Board of Trustees review with the capital campaign staff, or leadership, or both, the receipt and expenditure and transfer of funds as they have occurred or are expected to occur in the future.” His motion failed to receive a second, hence it failed.

Bockelman has until June 10 to make a decision about accepting or rejecting the bid. Unless waived, the MBLC requires the Town to sign a construction contract and secure a building permit by June 30 or else withdraw from the program and pay back the grant funds received to date plus interest (~$2.9 million).

The Jones Library Trustees agenda for next week includes an item titled “MBLC Extension Request” (Monday, May 20, 9-11 am, Zoom: Meanwhile, the Jones Library Buildings and Facilities Committee agenda has an item titled “Backup Building Project Planning” (Tuesday, May 21, 9-11am, Zoom:

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1 thought on “Jones Library Trustees Reject Project Bids

  1. It appears the Trustees at least have decided to go with the option of asking the MBLC for a 6-month extension on the Construction Start Date deadline of June 30th so that the project can be re-bid in the fall. As the Grantee, I would think only the Town Manager with direction from the Town Council (the borrowing authority), could make such an extension request. Continuing through December will have serious financial consequences which must be evaluated and discussed in public (the project will likely continue to cost ~$100,000 per month). There is no evidence that rebidding will be any more successful or that the project can be completed for under $46 million. And even at that stretched budget, there were extensive cuts made to the quality of building materials, the furniture budget, contingencies, and who knows what else. It is no longer the $35m project that was voted on in 2021. As Trustees Treasurer Bob Pam said at the recent Trustees meeting, “the odds on the project and the risks are no longer acceptable.”
    With spending approaching $3 million on this project already, it is past time to accept it is not viable and cut our losses (more than $2.3 million of the MBLC’s first grant installment has been spent on design and project management, and more than $400,000 has been spent by the Capital Campaign on fundraising). I am eagerly waiting for our Town Council representatives to step up to the plate and do the right thing.
    Bob Pam put it well in his statement when suggesting the time has come to revert to a repairs plan: “The library will still be a wonderful and beloved home of community education, entertainment, and activity for our town. Unite around what it does, and can do, without useless bitterness.”

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