Letter: Latest Jones Library Redesign Plans Would Do Violence to the Building While Wasting Even More of the Town’s Money

Schematic of Jones Library viewed from the North

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

The following letter was sent to the Amherst Town Council on June 15, 2024.

I write to ask you to support Councilor Cathy Schoen’s motion to tell the Town Manager to NOT enter into a contract with Finegold Alexander Architects (FAA) for re-design of the Jones Library expansion plans.

That re-design is estimated to cost between $500k and $800k to gain an estimated $2.9M in construction cost reductions (see here for a complete listing of planned cuts).  I note that these costs are exclusively for the work of FAA and do not include renewal of the OPM contract which I believe as required by law, do not include the costs associated with filing a new request for bids, and do not consider the $1.2M cost escalation to the project estimated by the OPM to accrue between now and September.  Combine these added expenses with disqualification for pending grants with historic preservation components, predicted by Jones treasurer Bob Pam, and the value-engineering yields a net loss.  So why are the trustees proposing to undertake such destructive changes to the design that will yield no fiscal benefit?

Here are just a few reasons why the proposed changes should be opposed.

1.    the proposed design changes do violence to the historic character of the building. As someone who spent a good chunk of my career working in historic preservation, I view discarding all of the unique historic woodwork and as an unconscionable act of vandalism to a building that is on the national and state historic registers.

2.    The redesign would eliminate nearly all of the proposed environmental/sustainability features, from a building that we were promised would be the greenest library in the state.  The increase to the carbon footprint by replacing cross laminated timber with steel alone results in a dramatic diminution of sustainability.

3.    While the Jones trustees have offered to pay $570,000 of the re-design costs, there is a good chance that those costs will be higher (as noted by FAA lead architect Ellen Anselone) and the trustees remain to this day, $900,000 in arrears on their own payment schedule.

4.    The proposed cut of $250k for utility upgrades near the fire station, which are necessary for the project, effectively transfers these costs to the town.

5.    The Jones’ own treasurer Bob Pam has declared the project no longer fiscally viable and he sees no hope of the Jones Capital Campaign raising the money that they have promised to raise (see also here).  Hence it is becoming increasingly likely that the town is going to have to pick up a larger share of the project costs. Hence throwing another million or so at a re-design that will only diminish the final product seems like a foolish and fruitless decision.

6.    Claims by the trustees that there is no alternative but to plow ahead with the expansion (and waste more of the town’s money) need to be dissected. Our own cost estimates for repairs (which are considerably more detailed and more current than what we have seen from the trustees and are in the process of being professionally vetted to be published in the coming weeks – but see also comments in this and this article for numbers) suggest that repairs to HVAC, electrical and plumbing can be completed for under $6M and that all of the necessary repairs including ADA compliance can be completed for under $12M and that this can all be done with relatively modest disruption to library services (compared to the two-year complete shudown of the Jones under the demolition/expansion plan).  And Bob Pam has suggested that currently unused or under-used space in the library can be repurposed to give us a much improved library within the current footprint at a modest cost.

The proposed contract with FAA and the re-designs specified represent an especially imprudent expenditure of resources. They will contribute to a substantial degradation of the Jones Building for no net fiscal benefit.  Whether you support the Jones expansion, or favor a more modest and cost effective intervention, THIS particular contract does not benefit the town nor save us money.  Please vote to support councilor Schoen’s motion.

Art Keene

Art Keene is a resident of Amherst’s District 3, Emeritus Professor of Anthropology at UMass, and the Managing Editor of the Amherst Indy. His four children are graduates of Amherst Regional High School. At UMass he co-founded and co-directed two civic leadership programs, The UMass Alliance for Community Transformation (UACT) and the Community Scholars Program. He was head coach of the ARHS girls cross country team for 17 years.

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4 thoughts on “Letter: Latest Jones Library Redesign Plans Would Do Violence to the Building While Wasting Even More of the Town’s Money

  1. Did the Town Council “do the right thing” last night?

    Or has “the majority” abandoned its fiduciary duty to the public?

  2. thank you Art. I keep waiting for Town Councillors and Town Manager Bockelman to come to their senses. common sense needs to prevail.

  3. I agree. This is crazy. We have a beautiful historic library. It needs repairs but it is otherwise lovely as it is. Please repair it and leave it otherwise as it is. We don’t need any of this grandiose plan. And doing some of that while ditching the historic preservation is a crime. What has happened to our town?

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