Indy Rewind: Greenwashing the Jones Library (Opinion)


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By Jeff Lee and Art Keene

The article “Greenwashing the Jones Library (Opinion)” by Jeff Lee and Art Keene appeared originally in the Amherst Indy on July 21, 2023. Since then, the Jones Trustees have abandoned nearly all of the environmental and sustainability features (see also here and here) that they had once promised, offering the consolation that the current plan will still produce a “net-zero ready building”, which as far as we can see, involves only replacing the oil-fired boiler with air-sourced heat pumps, something that can be part of a repair-only plan as well.

We thought it would be useful to point out many of the once-promised environmental features that were part of a concerted campaign to sell the Jones to the public (see especially here for the most recent list of cuts). This promotion of “the greenest library in the commonwealth” was especially prominent during the run up to the town referendum in November of 2021 (see also here) on borrowing for the Jones demolition/expansion project.

Here are some links to articles written by members of the Jones Sustainability Subcommittee
making the case for investment in a green building. It is now clear that we will be getting far less of a building than we were promised for a far greater cost.

Letter: Jones Library Renovation Offers Sustainable Design by Sara Draper – October 8, 2021

Letter: Carbon Sequestration Makes Jones Renovation An Investment In Sustainability -by Todd Holland by October 8, 2021

We also note that sustainability features were not part of the originally commissioned design but were added to the design in July of 2020 at an added design cost of $57,050 (see also here). The trustees began to edge away from their commitment to a green library (see also here) not long after the borrowing referendum passed.

This last year has seen the Jones Library Building Committee (JLBC) aggressively eliminating environmentally friendly features from the building plan as part of the “value engineering” efforts to bring down the costs. While it is disputed whether a net-zero building was ever promised, the prospect of getting such a building disappeared from their planning a long time ago. We are now assured that our building will be only “net-zero ready.”  And given the lack of transparency on the part of the JBLC and the Jones trustees, it is not at all clear that the library will have any environmentally friendly features if construction eventually commences. This, at a time when environmental responsibility is more important than ever.

Our latest concern is that the state’s new stretch codes requiring stricter climate friendly features (like triple glazed windows)  went into effect on July 1.  Library trustees indicated that they would file for a building permit prior to July 1 in order to absolve them of having to comply with new stretch codes. However, they failed to file their application on time and hence it looks like they will have to meet the new environmental standards. That is certain to drive up costs which are already projected to be way over budget.

We have been making inquiries of those close to the library project to get clarifications about commitments to environmental goals and about what environmental features have already been struck from the building plans. The library leadership have been less than forthcoming, though Town Manager Paul Bockelman has promised a comprehensive update on on the project for the August 17 Town Council meeting.  We are gravely concerned about the JBLC’s apparent retreat from climate goals in such a large project and worry that it is indicative of the town’s faltering commitment to meet its 2030 climate goals. We believe that the town and the JBLC have an obligation to rededicate their efforts to create a state-of-the-art, environmentally forward, climate friendly building consistent with the original claims and promises.  Otherwise, all that we have heard to date is just so much greenwashing.

Here are 13 instances of where the Jones expansion project appears to be greenwashing. 

1.Choosing not to pursue LEED certification and the hundreds of thousands of dollars such certification could bring in Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners (MBLC) incentives.

2.Eliminating from the design any generation of on-site energy via photovoltaics or geothermal.

3.Backing off plans to use low-embodied carbon materials such as real slate on the roof and granite pavers on the outside.

4.Replacing all-cross-laminated-timber (CLT) construction with a hybrid of steel and CLT.  It appears there are no CLT beams in the 15,000 sq. ft. addition.

5.Eliminating originally-planned saw-tooth roof skylights which would have increased natural light in the building. As now planned, it will require more electric lighting

6.Eliminating the originally proposed energy conservation measure of window overhangs

7.Introducing Hardie Board as an exterior material.  It needs to be painted every ten years, which will add to operating expenses which before long will exceed the money saved by this design change.

8.Not performing an updated Energy Use Intensity (EUI) analysis during the Design Development phase so that the effects on EUI caused by Value Engineering design changes can be understood.

9.Dropping consideration of triple-glazed windows which figured into previously promised EUI numbers

10.Not evaluating design changes for how they might reduce Eversource energy credits that the capital campaign is relying on

11.Not disclosing to the pubic all the eliminated design features that may negatively impact EUI and embodied carbon.

12.Accepting a $1.1 million Federal HUD grant for sustainability measures while doing all of the above which run counter to bona fide sustainability.

13.Claiming, without evidence, to be building one of the most climate-friendly libraries in the state.

Jeff Lee is a career computer programmer and regular observer of local government. He has lived in Amherst since 1994 and in the Pioneer Valley since 1973 when he began grad work in mathematics at UMass. He formerly served on the Amherst Redevelopment Authority and as a member of Town Meeting. He is a frequent contributor to the Amherst Indy.

Art Keene is Professor Emeritus of Anthropology at UMass. He coached girls cross country at Amherst High School for 17 years and was a town meeting member for 20+ years.  He has lived in Amherst since 1982.   He is Managing Editor of the Amherst Indy.

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2 thoughts on “Indy Rewind: Greenwashing the Jones Library (Opinion)

  1. This is devastating. Thanks, Art and Jeff, for this disheartening but essential report.

    Should the Town and Library Trustees now subtract $1.1 million from the money they think they will have to pay for this overblown, overpriced project?

    Because, have the Trustees and Town made full disclosure to HUD of relevant changes in the project’s sustainability since they applied for the grant? Do the terms of their HUD sustainability grant require them to disclose such changes? If so, has HUD determined that they still are eligible for that grant?

    And are they aware of Title 18, U.S. Code, § 1001? This makes it a five-year federal felony if anyone “willfully falsifies, conceals or covers up by any trick, scheme, or device a material fact, or makes any false, fictitious or fraudulent statements or representations, or makes or uses any false writing or document knowing the same to contain any false, fictitious or fraudulent statement or entry ….”

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