Letter: Escalating Jones Library Expansion Costs Threaten Town’s Sustainability Goals and Public Schools


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As the Amherst Town Council and Town Manager prepare to put the Jones Library demolition and expansion project out for rebidding, Sunrise Amherst would like to remind councilors of established town priorities regarding climate resilience and the needs of our town’s capital program. As a leading climate justice organization in Amherst, we are concerned that one of our four large capital projects is not considered to be under the town’s net zero energy bylaw. Climate gains, such as new heat pumps proposed for the Jones renovation are laudable, however, all of the town’s other large capital projects are required to be net zero. This is per our town’s net zero energy bylaw adopted by Town Meeting in 2018 and revised by the Town Council in 2021. Unfortunately, the Jones Project is exempt from the net zero requirement because it is owned by the Jones Library Trustees, and not the Town of Amherst.  This means all the energy needs of the building will be drawn from the grid, rather than from onsite solar panels which have been used in other library projects across the country, and would offset electricity costs in the operating budget. 

In addition, part of our intersectional mission includes advocating for workers’ rights and for an effective town government that can provide high quality service to all its residents. Continuing this project at its current cost jeopardizes the ability of the town to pay for new net zero fire department and public works (DPW) facilities. The town has no updated estimates in hand for the true cost of these projects, and has failed to identify a site for our DPW building after a neighborhood pushback to a donated site on South East Street. 

As it stands, the Jones Library needs work: carpets are outdated and paint is chipping and the HVAC and fire suppression systems need to be replaced. However, the facility is not as dangerous to its workers and patrons as are the town’s central fire station and DPW headuarters and is rated as a lower priority for intervention on the town’s capital inventory when compared to other large town facilities. Moving forward with the current Jones plan and waiting months to rebid, rather than moving forward immediately with a $2-6 million repair option only allows more time to pass and more inflation to occur.

Recently, Jones Trustees Chair Austin Sarat, said in a post to the Amherst Current , “In the end, the library project has never been about the building; it has always been, and remains, about the people.”

Sunrise Amherst would ask Sarat and other Jones Trustees to consider the people who will be impacted by this exorbitant, costly project and its consequences. We ask that you consider the ARPS students who are seeing their education diminished, and who will have fewer staff and programs at school; we ask that you consider our teachers, public works staff, and firefighters whose working conditions could be improved with funds currently dedicated to the library project, and lastly we ask that you consider young people who are concerned about their future in a warming climate and demand town buildings that are truly net zero, rather than greenwashed. If this project is truly about the people, we ask that the Jones Library Trustees and the Town Council scale back the Jones project and re-invest that money where it will be of greater impact to the people who call Amherst home. 

It’s time for Town Councilors to represent all of us, by viewing this project through the eyes of students, young people, overburdened taxpayers, and concerned residents. Sunrise Amherst looks forward to the closing of this issue, which has been a point of divisiveness and disagreement in our town. Hopefully, in the future, Amherst can set its sights on enthusiastically supporting three large capital projects that plan to bring clean, top of the line facilities to our town in an environmentally sustainable manner. 

Sunrise Amherst is the local hub of the Sunrise Movement working towards the Green New Deal, and climate and economic justice. 

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4 thoughts on “Letter: Escalating Jones Library Expansion Costs Threaten Town’s Sustainability Goals and Public Schools

  1. Excellent article! Some take away points —
    “the Jones only needs carpet, paint and a new HVAC and fire suppression system. $2-6m total..I really like that better than $46m for an energy hog Walmart library with no historical characteristics.

    The Town Council voted to give free rein last week to the Library Trustees to do what they want with the Jones with Amherst taxpayer money. Who are the Library Trustees accountable to?

  2. “Plan B” does not have to be — and should not be — one that addresses every deferred need of the Jones Library. All town-owned buildings have millions of dollars worth of needed repairs and yet Councilors and residents are not arguing that they should all be done at once. Why would a building that is not owned by the Town go first and get everything fixed before schools and fire stations and public works buildings?

    The highest priority repairs for the library (according to the MOA signed by Paul Bockelman and the Trustees) is the HVAC system and the atrium roof. The Library Directory and the Facilities Supervisor now also talking about the fire suppression system needing to be replaced. In 2020, Western Builders estimated the cost to replace the HVAC at $1.5m, the atrium (skylight) at $614,000 and fire suppression at $271,000, for a construction start in late 2020/early 2021. With escalation, and adding design fees and some asbestos abatement, those repairs should be doable for less than $5 million. Of that, the Trustees pay the first $1.8 million, a Capital Campaign should be good for at least the $1.6 million remitted to the Town so far, and CPA money could be pursued too, which leaves very little cost to the Town compared to the $15.8+ million currently earmarked. Then, the Library goes back in the queue and the precious, limited capital dollars can go toward a higher priority new fire station or DPW building.

    When expansion proponents argue that repairs will cost more than $15.8m, they are talking about replacing or repairing every single thing that has been neglected in the library over decades, and replacing with better systems/products than are now being proposed in the expansion after all the “value engineering.” It is a red herring and not what Plan B should/will be.

  3. Thanks for stating the obvious, Toni, and refuting the “repairs will cost more than $20 million” falsehood that the seven library-expansion-obsessed town councilors would have us believe. A library wish list is not an urgent repair plan.

    It is a disservice to the public and a reflection of how our top-heavy form of local government has deteriorated that Town leaders have never conducted an independent analysis of the true cost of keeping the lights on at the Jones Library. Ex-Councilor Dorothy Pam was right when she said “the taxpayers need their own OPM.”

  4. A new Jones Library heating and cooling system could cost substantially less than the $1.5 million of the Western Builders’ estimate, while addressing Sunrise Amherst’s laudable concerns about sustainability, and requiring less space within the building than the HVAC currently does.

    In 2010, when Carol Gray and I were Trustees, Dragin Geothermal estimated that 21 wells could heat and cool the Library, and that there was space around the Library building for the wells. The estimate must be in the Library’s records.

    I feel like a broken record saying this, and believe that the Library Director, while giving no reason, has recently stated that the Library will not use geothermal (or whatever you want to call it). But should her personal views override considerations of cost-effectiveness for the Town’s taxpayers, and responsible climate stewardship for us all?

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