Significant Cost Savings Remain Elusive for Jones Library Expansion Project


Architect's rendering of proposed Jones Library addition. In the latest proposed design changes the exterior would be changed mostly from brick to fiber-cement siding, the windows would be smaller, and the metal roof would be replaced with asphalt singles. Photo:

The Jones Library Building Committee (JLBC) met with representatives of Finegold Alexander Architects on May 28, to hear the designers’ proposals for cutting additional costs from the library expansion project. Lead architect Ellen Anselone outlined a possible $2.89 million in cuts and deferrals from the current plans that could be implemented in time for the project to go out to bid again in September.  She estimated that the design costs for implementing those changes could run $800,000. She did not discuss the estimated $900,000 – $1.2 million in cost escalation that Owners Project Manager Tim Alix projected between now and when the project is proposed to be put out for rebidding in September. 

The trustees voted on May 20 to reject the lone constriction bid that they received, which was $7.2 million over the previously estimated construction cost specified in the bid document of $35.5 million. The estimated total project cost rose from $46.1 million to $55 million.

The Jones Library Trustees voted 4-1 on May 20 to keep the project on life support by seeking a six month extension from the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners (MBLC) on their June 2024 construction start deadline, in order to make changes to the design that would make the project more attractive to bidders, prepare new bidding documents, and put the project out to bid again in September with the hopes that the “redesign and new timing” would attract more interest in the project and return more affordable bids.  The MBLC meeting is scheduled for June 6 and Anselone indicated that work on design changes would have to begin by June 10.

Trustees Chair Austin Sarat, noted that with projected new savings of nearly $3 million from design modifications and an estimated added design expense of about $800,000, that this would “only bring the town a little closer to closing the gap on the $7.24 million cost overrun.” He said his hope is that these new design modifications would make the project more attractive to more bidders resulting in more competition in the bidding process that would drive the costs down by as much as $4-5 million. He asked Anselone if that expectation was correct and she did not respond. Sarat did not address the anticipated cost escalation, nor the multitude of organizational problems that plagued the first bidding effort (see also here and here).

At the close of the meeting, Jones Trustee and Treasurer Bob Pam, continued to question the fiscal viability of the project. He noted that proposed value engineering to the roof and historic woodwork would likely kill the effort to gain historic tax credits and said that if you spend $800,000 to save $2.8 million and then lose about $2 million in tax credits it ends up being a wash, and takes time and resources away from undertaking a more modest repair and repurpose project beginning with repairing or replacing the HVAC and fire suppression system. Pam did not mention whether the changes might also impact a pending application for a NEH grant for historic properties  which is yet to pass review by the National Park Service. 

What Else Can Be Cut From the Project to Save Money?
Anselone had been charged with finding substantial savings that could be applied in a project that had already been highly value engineered. She reviewed each of her proposed changes listed in the table below.  Sarat reminded those listening that the JLBC was seeing this proposal for the first time and would need some time to digest it before considering next steps.

The largest proposed savings are as follows.

  • Delete reinstallation of historic woodwork except for the main staircase. $1million
  • Replace cross laminated timber structure with steel: $500,000
  • Delete site utility upgrade at central firehouse: $250,000
  • Change synthetic slate shingles to asphalt: $227,000
  • Change curtain wall windows to smaller store front windows : $150,000

Regarding the site utility upgrade to the sewer line,  it is not clear whether this work would have to be done anyway, and whether this is just transferring this expense from the library project to the town budget.

Proposed design changes for Jones Library expansion project, May 28, 2024. Table: Finegold Alexander Architects

Anselone said the design costs for these changes are hard to estimate, but the redesign of the windows alone is a substantial project that could cost as much as $300,000. She added that items 11 and 12 in the chart – changing the shingles from synthetic slate to asphalt and changing the brick exterior to mostly fiber cement siding would be especially costly. 

Library Director Sharon Sharry noted that the $400,000 book sorting machine had been eliminated from the project plan, but the cost was never included in the construction bid specs. Sharry said that the elimination of the machine would cut $400,000 from the overall cost of the project, and those savings could be applied elsewhere. She hoped that they could bring the book sorter back at some future date.

Committee member Christine Gary Mullen raised the possibility of additional cuts and asked Anselone to look into what kind of savings might be realized from their consideration, including doing less asbestos abatement by leaving historic molding in place and avoiding the need to remove the asbestos behind it, and by considering replacing the wood floors with linoleum, and wooden columns with plaster or gypsum covering.

Anselone emphasized that any additional modifications that they might consider would have to be able to be accomplished within a 12 week window (before new bidding documents need to be prepared), so complex redesign efforts cannot be done. Therefore, any additional changes would likely only produce small savings.  

Regarding asbestos abatement, she said that they could indeed leave the molding in place and just remove the asbestos around it but that comes with a risk – that if they have to cut a channel, for example for new electric outlets, that could require more unplanned abatement, which would be time consuming and cause delays that end up being more expensive. And, of course, it would leave asbestos in place and that might not be desirable. 

Alex LeFebvre wondered if there might be $500,000 in savings from eliminating solar panels.  Anselone responded that building code requires that the building must be solar ready so the savings would likely be far less than imagined.  Given the priority that had been placed on creating a sustainable building, she did not think that getting rid of the panels had been an option, but she said she would nonetheless cost out their elimination.

Aneslone said that she would also look into potential cost savings in replacing wood floors with linoleum and the current state of the existing windows to determine which windows in the old building could be repaired instead of replaced.

Additional Questions
Facilities Supervisor George Hicks-Richards asked if they would have to go back to the Historical Commission or the Planning Board for permission to make the proposed modifications to the exterior design. Sarat thought they might, but noted that they are working with a very tight time frame.

Sarat wanted to know if they eliminated all of the CLT (cross-laminated timber) as proposed if that would impact the overall environmental sustainability of the building. Anselone responded that she could not say without undertaking a new analysis.

Town Councilor Pam Rooney wanted to know when she could expect to see some cost estimates for HVAC repair or replacement. Sarat responded that this was not the responsibility of the JLBC and inquiries should be directed to the Town Manager. Bockelman responded that the town has not done that work yet and gave no indication if or when they would.

Trustee Farah Ameen reported that the Buildings and Facilities committee met last week and discussed a possible alternative to the expansion project and determined that Sharry and Hicks-Richards would come up with an alternative plan and bring it to the Town Manager. 

Public Comment
Four people offered public comment.

Leticia Lafollette praised the JLBC for keeping the expansion project moving forward.  She said that she was glad to see that the costs were coming down and wondered what kind of savings might be derived from covering the proposed steel columns with an alternative to wood.

Jones Trustee treasurer Bob Pam said that looking at the project from a financial perspective, it looked that the value engineering would not result in any net savings after design costs and the likely loss of historic tax credits are considered.   He said he wanted to address the repair option. Sarat said that JLBC was not an appropriate venue to do this. Pam responded that “venues to do this seem to disappear whenever I seek them”. The two went back and forth, and Sarat granted Pam two minutes to speak and directed him to take his concerns to the Jones Trustees.

Pam said that the HVAC must be replaced and made the case for installing air source heat pumps on the 1993 roof. He noted that the design work for this had already been done and could result in hundreds of thousands of dollars in savings. He noted that there are also energy credits and rebates and grants for this environmentally worthy work. He said that similarly, much of the design work has already been done for the fire suppression system and the plans from the expansion project can likely be applied, again resulting in savings.

Kelly Erwin said she really appreciated the attention to detail coming from the committee and praised the “great job” that they have done to date. 

Ken Rosenthal pointed out that Bob Pam is a member of the Jones Library Board of Trustees  and is its treasurer. He said, “By not listening to him, know that you are cutting off the opportunity to hear more ideas to help you address the challenges that you face.”

Sarat responded, “We have our charge, and that was not part of it. “

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5 thoughts on “Significant Cost Savings Remain Elusive for Jones Library Expansion Project

  1. Thanks to all who are keeping us informed of this project. It seems so disrespectful for this Library group to not be listening to the Jones Trustee and Treasurer Bob Pam.

    Anyway, I wanted to reiterate what’s on the Amherst Forward website which states:

    “*Funding for the Jones Library project will not raise taxes for Amherst residents. “

    I guess we’ll see about that. Seems as if they already have!

  2. Jeff, that claim by Amherst Forward is technically correct but very misleading. It relates to the Library project being funded out of “Cash Capital” rather than via a Debt Exclusion Override. It was a calculated decision by the Town Manager to do this — to use cash capital for the Library and fund the Town’s share of the Elementary School project through a Debt Exclusion Override (a direct increase in property taxes for that purpose). I expect Bockelman, Councilors, and Library Trustees suspected voters wouldn’t support raising their taxes for a larger fancy Library, especially when a new Fire Station and DPW are so desperately needed.

    Of the property tax levy ($62 million last year), 10.5% is now being allocated to the Capital budget. All buildings, facilities, and equipment has to be paid for out of this bucket of money. This year Cash Capital amounts to $6.5 million, and a whopping 18% of that ($1,172,025) is earmarked to pay debt on the Library project in the coming year, and annually for the next 20 years. That’s an awful lot of property tax money that could otherwise go to resurfacing roads or paying debt service on a new fire station or DPW, or any number of other critical needs. By funneling so much of the already-limited capital budget to the Library, the investment in roads this year was cut to $500,000, down from $1,352,483 last year, and many other equipment purchases, vehicles, and repairs have been deferred. For comparison, I looked at how much capital funds went to the Library for building repairs in the 8 years before they planned the expansion/renovation project and the median was $45,000 per year. Now it’s 26 times that!

    As for raising taxes for Amherst residents, if the Library project goes ahead, it is highly likely that the Fire Station or DPW would need to be paid for through another Debt Exclusion Override since there won’t be enough money left in the capital budget to pay debt on another large project. Either that or those projects get pushed off for many more years.

  3. JLBC Chair and Trustee President Austin Sarat’s silencing of Bob Pam’s attempt to propose cheaper and more sustainable alternatives to restoring the Jones Library was outrageous and arguably illegal. The Mass. SJC has ruled that public meeting participants’ speech may not be restricted “based solely on the viewpoint or message of a speaker or the board’s desire to avoid criticism.”

    Sarat’s domineering leadership and obsessive focus on expansion have kept the Town chasing after the Jones Library boondoggle as the now $53 million project continues to jettison features while taxpayers foot the bills and the library deteriorates.

  4. Thank you Toni. Very informative and we appreciate the response. It’s important for everyone to understand where all the money is going and not going.

  5. Bait Bait Switch Switch Switch Shuffle Shuffle:
    the ‘ Brary Expansion Debt Exclusion property Tax Rag

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