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Building committee votes to keep Jones Library designs green in Amherst

  • Patrons enter the Jones Library in Amherst on Friday, Oct. 29, 2021. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO



Staff Writer
Monday, May 23, 2022

AMHERST — Cross-laminated timbers, an important sustainability feature in the construction of an expanded and renovated Jones Library, will remain in the project, despite their projected cost premium.

With concerns about increasing costs for the $36.3 million project, which is $3.9 million over budget based on calculations done in the initial phase of the schematic design, the Jones Library Building Committee last week approved the use of the cross-laminated timbers, rather than conventional standard steel frame construction.

“I think not making this building as green as we can is a mistake based on the global catastrophe and the situation we’re living in right now,” said trustee Alex Lefebvre, who is a member of the committee that voted 6-1 in favor of using the cross-laminated timbers.

They are estimated by Finegold Alexander Architects at being about $506,000 more expensive than steel, according to Craig DiCarlo, the owner’s project manager from Colliers. But cross-laminated timbers are also a more sustainable and environmentally friendly material.

Lefebvre was joined in the vote by fellow trustee Austin Sarat, Library Director Sharon Sharry, Facilities Supervisor George Hicks-Richards, community member Christine Gray-Mullen and Town Councilor Anika Lopes. But Town Manager Paul Bockelman voted against the expense and Finance Director Sean Mangano abstained from the vote.

DiCarlo said that while costs are a concern, there is no need to cut the scope of the project, or be in a panic, yet.

“My advice is to proceed through this manic design phase and we’ll get another cost estimate that is more accurate, and we’ll have a much better feel for what the project will cost,” DiCarlo said.

He suggested that cost savings can still be found, such as in exterior treatments for the building, various aesthetics and in environmentally sustainable measures. “There are other areas where costs could be reduced, if needed,” DiCarlo said.

Lefebvre said she was convinced that the sustainable aspects lend themselves to the more than $6 million in fundraising needed for the project.

Town resident Ginny Hamilton, who is spearheading the fundraising, said sustainability features are a key feature of interest from donors, and the use of cross-laminated timbers excites people.

“Taking that out now, I think, would have some pushback from folks in town who are proud to have these multiple environmental features in the new building,” Hamilton said.

Todd Holland, a resident who served on the Jones Library Sustainability Committee, said the cross-laminated timbers provide embodied carbon savings, noting that the energy and transportation needed to make steel and concrete conventionally emit a lot of carbon.

While Bockelman said he was persuaded that the town has made promises around sustainability, there is also the blunt reality of economics.

“These are the hard decisions,” Bockelman said, noting that the committee will have to prepare itself for potentially unpopular cuts.

Mangano said he would have liked more information about other ways to make the building green and whether the town could achieve those even with a steel-frame construction.

“Not knowing what the tradeoff is makes it hard to make a decision right now,” Mangano said.

Should cost projections continue to climb and the committee reverse course on this framing technique, it would set the project back a month, DiCarlo said. That is the amount of time Finegold Alexander would need for redesigns.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.