What is the status of the Jones Library Renovation & Expansion?

On hold. On April 26, 2024, the Town received one general contractor bid for the project, which was approximately $6.5M (18%) over budget. At the request of the Trustees, the Town Manager rejected this bid. The Trustees have committed funds to extend the architect's contract, which the Town Manager must sign, in order to make cost-saving design changes and re-bid the project in September..

Why was this bid so high?

·  Cost estimates are based on receiving 5 bids, with competition restraining costs. For this project, the Town pre-qualified 6 contractors, yet only 1 of those contractors submitted a bid.
·  Our Architects and Owners Project Manager (OPM) are talking with contractors and with similar projects to explore why the bid was so much higher than estimates. Anecdotally, the biggest driver was timing. Contractors chose not to bid because of their own workloads, debt limits, and available subcontractors.
·  Other projects have also faced a dearth of bids. Tilton Library in Deerfield, for instance, received only one bid at 10% over budget estimates. A much smaller project, Deerfield chose to move ahead at the higher cost.

Can we go out to bid again?

Yes. Town and State officials have confirmed that we can rebid the project because we received only one bid that is significantly over budget. On June 6, MBLC Commissioners voted unanimously to extend the deadline for the Town to sign with a general contractor until December 31. MBLC does not want the renovation and expansion project to fail.

Could going out to bid again bring a lower cost?

Quite likely.
·   Fall is generally considered the best time to seek low bids because contractors are wrapping up summer projects and looking ahead to the next year.
·   Learning from this bidding process, amendments and alternatives will be included in the new bid documents from the beginning.
·   All parties could actively recruit contractors to participate, creating more competition and predictably a lower bid. A single bid is reliably associated with a 20% increase in cost over budget, according to research the Army Corps of Engineers predicts.

Could our Town renegotiate the grant with the MBLC?

No. MBLC funds were awarded for the renovation and expansion project only. The MBLC has confirmed that funds cannot be used for a smaller version of the project or just for repairs. A new application would result in a delay of up to 10 years with no guarantee that we would be accepted, significantly increasing the cost yet again.

Can we make the project smaller?

No. Cutting the size of the building would forfeit MA Board of Library Commissioners (MBLC) funds entirely and jeopardize federal and private funding committed for specific programmatic features of the renovation and expansion. In other words, making the project smaller would require going back to square one.

Why does anything need to be done to the Library at all?

The Jones Library building needs significant repairs and upgrades. Major issues include:

  • The leaking atrium threatens the integrity of the building. The atrium was constructed without adequate drainage for rain or melting snow, which collects in the gutters on the side of the glass roof and then leaks into the rooms below. Repeated repair attempts have been unsuccessful. Leaks during an intense rainstorm in August 2023 closed the Library for three days. Storm damage to the fire suppression system could have forced the Library to remain closed for significantly longer.
  • The obsolete heating and cooling system (HVAC) is beyond repair. Multiple HVAC leaks have caused damage to the Library’s irreplaceable Special Collections. Because the Library cannot operate without adequate heating and cooling, the increasingly unreliable HVAC system threatens day-to-day functioning.
  • The building does not comply with the current building code and mandated accessibility standards. It is both a legal and moral obligation to make one of the town's most used buildings fully accessible to all.
  • The present building does not have enough space for current programs, much less for new and emerging program demands such as a teen space. or a permanent home for the Civil War tablets.  

How much will the project cost our Town?

$15.8 million. This is the amount approved by Town Council in April 2021 and in December 2023 as well as by 65% of voters in November 2021. This amount has not changed and will not change.

Have costs gone up?

YES. The original project cost was estimated at $36.3 million; because of delays and COVID-related cost spikes, the 2023 estimate is $46.1 million (after $2.2 million in identified project cuts). Since the April 2024 construction bid exceeds that cost by 18%, Library and Town leaders have identified additional cost saving measures in order to proceed with the project.

How will we pay for the project?

In addition to the Town’s share of $15.8 million, the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners (MBLC) foundational grant commits $13.8 million. To raise the remaining funds, we have mounted a robust Capital Campaign seeking additional government support as well as private grants and funds from the community.

As of June 2024, the Capital Campaign has secured commitments exceeding $9.6 million. Combined with Town bond funding and the MBLC grant, funds secured represent more than 85% of the estimated cost of the project. Capital campaign fundraising continues in order to secure the remaining funds needed.

Can we really raise those millions through a Capital Campaign?

Yes we can. Our Library’s historic significance, the broad range of community programs and services used by more than 200,000 people annually, and the climate-friendly impact of the renovated building have already attracted broad financial support from federal and state governments, foundations and corporations, as well as hundreds of community members. Please see the most recent chart of funds raised, which is updated monthly.

I’ve heard this project will gut the Library’s endowment. Is this accurate?

No. The Jones Library Trustees have agreed to remit to the Town funds raised through the Capital Campaign by the time the MBLC makes its last payment, currently scheduled for June 2026. Given we have secured 85% of projected costs, we remain confident we can reach our fundraising goals in this time period. Any shortfall can be made up by temporary borrowing from the Library’s endowment (a common strategy) or from external sources available to nonprofits at subsidized interest rates. The Trustees have committed to replacing any endowment funds used through ongoing fundraising.

Is fundraising falling behind?

No. The original capital campaign goal was to raise $6.6 million to accompany MBLC and Town funds by the time construction was complete. In the face of cost spikes, we have now secured commitments totaling over $9.6 million including additional state funds, two federal grants, and community gifts of all sizes, all before the project was certain. Continued uncertainty makes fundraising challenging. Still, we have yet to tap full community interest in the project. Additionally, with national attention stemming from the NEH Challenge Grant and the public television short form documentary, we remain confident we can raise the funds necessary over time.

I don’t actually use the Library. Why should I support this project?

The Jones Library Building Project preserves our historic building, creates the flexible space needed to meet future demands, and provides a reinvigorated anchor for downtown and regional revitalization.

Now more than ever, libraries are essential to the strength of our communities. Public libraries are recognized as the most democratic of institutions. In a time of increased isolation and divisiveness, investing in our public infrastructure is even more important. More than a place to borrow books, libraries have become vital community centers. Libraries offer a common space where people meet for cultural and educational events, where job seekers come for help, where kids do research and their homework, where parents introduce children to the world of stories, and where newcomers learn English as a second language. Contrary to popular opinion, technology has increased library use as those without computers depend upon their local library to go online.

The Jones Library is a key component of our downtown economy. With the additional, refurbished space, more people will attend programs. As these numbers from recently renovated and expanded libraries demonstrate, new buildings help increase program attendance. Often, out-of-town visitors consult library staff for referrals to restaurants and local attractions.

Program Attendance Increase following Construction (source MBLC) 
72% increase Shutesbury Public Library program
180% increase South Hadley Public Library
75% increase Athol Public Library

Would postponing the Library project free up funds for teacher salaries or other uses?

No. The Town’s prudent capital planning depends on leveraging outside funding. Rejecting state funds for the Library would make it less likely the Town will have sufficient funding for other needs.

Each year, our Town reserves funds for capital improvements. Limited debt exclusion override monies – like the May 2023 vote for the elementary school – also go into this fund.  The Finance Committee set a goal of increasing the capital budget to the present level to ensure other building projects could be funded without subsequent overrides.

These funds are used for the Town’s share of larger capital projects like the Library and annual capital expenses recommended to the Town Manager by the Joint Capital Planning Committee (JCPC), like the purchase of a new ambulance or priority road repairs. When the Town borrows for larger capital projects, interest payments (also called debt service) are paid out of this account.

Other factors influence how much there is to spend and when to borrow and when to spend, such as Interest rates (both on investments and on borrowing) and outside sources of funding (such as the override for the elementary school, state grants, and in this case, the Library’s private fundraising).

Reassigning capital funds for annual operational costs such as the school budgets would set planning back decades and further limit our Town’s ability to address other existing capital needs like roads, the middle school roof, the senior center, and more.

After over a decade of thorough planning and deliberation, it is past time to address the urgent physical needs of the Library building. If the Town does not spend the committed amount needed to keep the Library operational, its condition will continue to decline, and the Library will be unable to provide even basic services.

If we cancel the renovation and expansion and just repair the Library, wouldn’t that free up money for other capital projects?

No. Detailed professional estimates commissioned by the Library Trustees in 2020 concluded that the repairs required simply to keep the Library operational would cost the same amount ($14-16 million in 2020 dollars) as the Town’s commitment to the project ($15.8 million). When Town staff updated the estimates to account for recent inflation, those repairs would cost $19-21 million in 2023 dollars. These estimates do not include asbestos abatement, the extent of which was not known when repair estimates were made.

After over a decade of thorough planning and deliberation, it is past time to address the urgent physical needs of the Library building. If the Town does not spend the committed amount needed to keep the library operational, building conditions will continue to decline and the Library will be unable to provide even basic services.

Will the Library Building Project raise taxes?

No. There will not be a tax increase or an override vote needed for the Library. Careful financial planning by our Town separates capital expenses, including borrowing costs, from the annual operating budget. The $15.8M Town share of the cost of the Library Building Project and associated borrowing costs can be covered under the Town's capital budget.  

Why are we expanding the Library instead of just renovating it?

There is simply not enough square footage in the building to accommodate program demands. With 227,000 visitors per year, the Library is among our Town’s most used buildings; in Western MA, it is second in usage to the Springfield library. Our programs are booming but are constrained by the competition for available space. Compliance with accessibility codes also requires more space than is available.

There is no magic number or residential population calculation to establish the size of a library; instead, the MBLC determines appropriate building size by the community’s use of the building. A detailed inventory of required space determined the need to expand from 47,000 square feet to 63,000 square feet. The MBLC funds were awarded to meet the programmatic needs of our community for decades to come.

Why will the building be so big?

There is no magic number or residential population calculation to establish the size of a library; instead, the MBLC determines appropriate building size by the community’s use of the building. A detailed inventory of required space determined the need to expand from 47,000 square feet to 63,000 square feet. The MBLC funds were awarded to meet the programmatic needs of our community for decades to come.

What features will the expanded Library have that the current building does not?

Many! The Jones Library Building Project:

  • Restores the 1928 historic building and reopens parts of the interior currently not open to the public.
  • Upgrades antiquated infrastructure, including heating, cooling, and fire suppression systems.
  • Creates a children’s department on one floor with enough space to meet the needs of all children and families who want to benefit from our Library. (The children’s department is currently spread out over two floors, making it difficult for parents to supervise and support their children).
  • Creates a safe, dedicated teen space, including a Makerspace that allows teens to learn from experimentation and each other while sharing ideas and equipment in collaborative projects.
  • Adds much-needed additional ESL tutoring rooms.
  • Triples the number of computers and modernizes IT infrastructure.
  • Creates a larger, fully climate-controlled space for the historical and literary materials housed in Special Collections, including permanent, dedicated space for Amherst’s Civil War Tablets.
  • Improves the work environment for staff.
  • Eliminates the use of fossil fuels and makes the building net-zero ready.
  • Uses Universal Design to create a building accessible to all.
  • Fosters functional, efficient, and flexible spaces designed for how libraries are used today and will be utilized in the future.

Additional information is available on each aspect of the Project. Please ask for details.

Does the Library project advance our Town’s climate action goals?

Yes. The current building prevents our Town from reaching its climate action goals. The new building will be net-zero ready (net zero with the purchase of renewable energy) and one of the most climate-friendly buildings in Town.

Value engineering changes approved in June 2024 will eliminate the use of cross laminate timber (CLT), reducing but not eliminating the carbon use benefit of the project. Even with changes, the use of fossil fuels will be eliminated, resulting in an 8% cut in utility costs.

  • Energy use intensity will be reduced by 60%.

Isn’t it more environmentally sound to repair the current building?

No. A Whole Building Life Cycle Analysis concluded that even with the carbon emission created by the demolition of the 1993 addition, and from the new construction, the renovation and expansion is the greenest option and the most cost-effective way to create a greener building. Repairs would rely on fossil fuels and continue to heat and cool the atrium.

Will the Library be closed during the construction?

No.  The Library will operate out of temporary location while construction takes place. In fact, remaining open is required by the MBLC. The cost of moving and temporary quarters is already built into the budget. Details about operations at the temporary location will be posted once construction plans are finalized.

Will the look and feel of the historic 1928 building be lost?

No. Instead, the project will restore many parts of the original building now inaccessible to the public. The Amity Street and east and west facades will be restored to their original appearance. Interior spaces will be revamped to provide reading and meeting rooms, including spaces now closed to the public.

Will the Woodbury Room and Burnett Gallery be preserved?

Yes. The Woodbury Room will be expanded but will retain the names of generous donors who funded its renovation. The Burnett Gallery will be more visible and accessible than in its present location. Both will be part of the garden-level Humanities Center.

What is the Humanities Center and will it increase the cost?

All components of the Humanities Center are existing parts of the renovation and expansion plans, including Special Collections storage and exhibit areas, new space for our Burnett Art Gallery; and additional, flexible space for internal and community-based programming, including after-hours access. The largest of 24 NEH Infrastructure and Capacity Building Challenge Grants given nationwide, the NEH grant will leverage funds for these garden level facilities.

I thought we voted on this project. Why are we still debating this?

We did! In November 2021, 65% of voters approved our Town Council’s decision to authorize funds to renovate and expand the Jones Library. However, the MBLC requires our Town to authorize total allowable costs for the project, not simply the Town’s share. In December 2023, the Town Council approved borrowing for the estimated total cost. In April 2024, the construction bid exceeded this cost cap.

What can I do to help?

Many things! Contribute money. Help us fundraise. Contact your Town Councilors to express your support for continuing to move ahead with the renovation and expansion project. Host a gathering to introduce us to others who need to learn about the project. Respond to rumors with facts. Use your time and skills to volunteer with us. Become an ambassador for the Jones Library Capital Campaign and help us build together.

The Friends of the Jones Libraries are asking everyone who is able to join in this historic effort to revitalize one of the most important components of Amherst’s civic infrastructure.

Contact us at info@joneslibrarycapitalcampaign.org or call 413-825-3866.

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