Six-Month Extension Granted to Jones Library Expansion Project


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Report on the Meeting of the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners, June 6, 2024.

This meeting was held at the Palmer Library. It was recorded. In addition to the people present at the library, there were 69 participants on Zoom.  

Library Consultant Angela Bono-Bunker introduced the Jones Library petition to extend the “milestone 3” or bidding phase of the Jones Library Expansion Project from June 30 to December 31, 2024. She assured the public that the commission reviewed all of the submitted emails on the topic, so that public comment would be limited to 10 minutes.  After a limited public comment period and a brief discussion, the commissioners voted unanimously to approve the extension.

Bono-Bunker stated that the Jones project received only one bid from a general contractor, and that bid was 18% over budget. The project has already received two extensions, partially due to the impact of the pandemic. She noted that other library building projects have faced similar circumstances recently. Deerfield only received one bid for its library expansion, and although that bid was 10% over budget, the town accepted it. The town of Sharon recently received an extension when its library building project failed to receive any bids. A rebidding process yielded a bid 5% over budget. Swansea, however, received four bids, and the lowest was 5% under budget. She hypothesized that the general contractors in Amherst and Deerfield knew they had no competition, so they submitted high bids.

In making her case for the extension, she said that Amherst had three affirmative votes on the project: two allocations from the Town Council and one local referendum. She said an extension would give the town a chance to explore options and make a decision on whether it can proceed. The MBLC was assured that all library programming would continue during this period of uncertainty. She did not mention the 6-7 vote of the council on June 3 that narrowly missed advising the Town Manager to halt the project

Jones Library Director Sharon Sharry and Council President Lynn Griesemer spoke in support of the extension, as did State representative Mindy Domb and Jones Library Trustees Tammy Ely and Farah Ameen. All asserted that repairing the library would cost the town more than the expansion project. Sharry noted that the building committee and trustees unanimously approved $3 million in cuts to the design, although she admitted that these will be offset by 12 weeks of additional design services, so there is some risk with proceeding. Ameen said, “We owe it to future generations” to make sure the renovation and expansion proceed.

Six people spoke during public comment, including Ameen, who said she was speaking as an Amherst resident, not a library trustee. Jan Reznik, a former MBLC Commissioner, advised the commission to be flexible. She said West Springfield was in a similar situation, and their rebidding process turned out well.

Former Jones Library Trustee Carol Gray said she knows the building well and is dismayed that the current trustees say it will cost more than $15 million to repair it. Deb Leonard argued that the town should trust the trustees to do their jobs and that the “frequent loud voices in opposition do not represent the whole town.”

Town Councilor Cathy Schoen said the “value engineering” approach fails to keep the integrity of the historic library, removing the original woodwork and most of the energy saving features of the original design, including keeping the single pane windows in the 1928 building.

Jeff Lee noted that the town referendum on the library passed when the cost was estimated to be $35 million, not the $53 million in the recent bid. Melissa Giraud said that the renovation and expansion is needed to serve all community members.

Bono-Bunker  said that none of the suggested value engineering changes will impact programming, and that the construction must comply with the town’s stretch code. She said the MBLC has never not granted an extension. She also said that if Amherst returns its grant with interest, the money goes into the state’s general fund, not back to the commission. Boxboro spent $250,000 of its grant and didn’t repay it when its project was canceled. Consequently, it is barred from any further MBLC grants for the next 20 years. Every other town that canceled its project has paid back the grant money it was issued. 

Other commissioners commented on the large number of letters they received for and against the project, but that it was disheartening to see the friction the plans have caused. It was noted, however, that the MBLC is “not building a library for the town, but for the Commonwealth” and that it is their job to build libraries. They noted that the MBLC is not risking anything by granting the extension. At last count, just prior to the meeting, MBLC had received 37 letters opposed to the extension and six in favor.  Letters were apparently still being received the morning of the meeting but were not included in the meeting packet.

Commissioner Kate Chang said the letters they received against the extension seemed to be a “circumvention of the democratic process,” since the town voted for it. Commissioner George Comeau pointed out that none of the letters spoke against the library; they were concerned with the cost. 

Town Manager Paul Bockelman stated in his letter to the MBLC that he will sign a new contract with architects Finegold Alexander (FAA) for redesign work. However,  the money has not been authorized by the council or the trustees.  There is not enough left from the payments the town has received from the state to cover the bill. The town has already spent $2.4 million from the MBLC grant on the project and would need to pay back $2.9 million to the commission if the project does not go forward. FAA architect Ellen Anselone estimated that the redesign would cost $800,000. 

The Jones trustees meet next on Monday, June 10 at 9 a.m.

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1 thought on “Six-Month Extension Granted to Jones Library Expansion Project

  1. The Town Council continues to circumvent the Town’s democratic process.
    In its submission to the MLBC, it ignored the most recent Town Council vote on cancelling the library project –an exceedingly narrow 6/7 vote – to emphasize the outdated referendum on a no-longer recognizable proposal.
    This led an MLBC member to the misapprehension that opponents of this library boondoggle are a small minority looking to torpedo a popular project. The Library Trustees should have corrected her. They should have acknowledged that opposition is based on the complete deletion of sustainable features, destruction of protected historic elements, and budget-busting expense.
    Drastic design downgrades and exploding costs render moot the old referendum.
    More democracy–a new vote on a new project–is the obvious remedy with integrity.

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