Jones trustees reiterate commitment to Amherst library expansion

By SCOTT MERZBACH

Staff Writer

Published: 03-23-2023 7:38 PM

AMHERST — Trustees for the Jones Library are reaffirming their support for expanding and renovating the main branch building at 43 Amity St., taking a unanimous vote to continue moving the project forward as the capital campaign is two-thirds of the way toward a $7 million interim goal.

At the trustees meeting March 15, the six-member board voted 6-0 for a resolution brought by President Austin Sarat that restates the trustees’ commitment to the project, currently estimated at $43.5 million, and praises the ongoing work of the Jones Library Building Committee to keep the price tag affordable in the face of inflation.

Sarat said project development is at an important stage and, while trustees have been committed to seeing it to completion, he wanted to remind the public of that.

“From my perspective, the building committee has been functioning wonderfully,” Sarat said.

While the project has been affected by rising costs, the commitments that include a $13.87 million grant from the Massachusets Board of Library Commissioners and $15.75 million from a town bond authorization remain in place, with $14 million the goal of the capital campaign.

Sarat said there has been extensive value engineering by the building committee that is aiming to reduce costs of the overall project in the face of inflationary pressures. Among those are the use of fiber cement siding instead of steel, helping to reduce the cost projection from $46.4 million in mid-December.

The scope of the project has largely remained unchanged, with upgrades to the original L-shaped 1928 building, removing portions of the early 1990s addition that added an atrium and expanding the building from 48,000 square feet to 63,000 square feet.

Trustee Robert Pam, who voted in favor of the resolution, questioned why Sarat was bringing it forward and wondered if it would become an agenda item for every trustee meeting.

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“We have already endorsed this project multiple times,” Pam said. “I don’t understand this today.”

Sarat said his intention was not to have similar resolutions be a regular part of meetings, but to drive home the point that trustees are unwavering in their support.

Critics of the project continue to cite its cost as a concern, especially in the lead-up to the Proposition 2½ debt-exclusion vote on the $98 million elementary school project on May 2.

The school project, if passed, would bring a new three-story building to the Fort River School site on South East Street so both that aging school and Wildwood School can be replaced.

Sarat’s motion included referencing seven bullet points for why the library project shouldn’t be delayed.

Those include that the renovated and enlarged building will address the urgent programmatic and space needs long identified by library staff; serve as an important resource for the town’s economically and socially disadvantaged; and provide an economically feasible way of upgrading the building.

In addition, the resolution cites that the building committee is making prudent design and architectural decisions, the project has state and community support, that it meets the town’s environmentally sustainable goals and protects a historical asset, and “keep(s) faith with” the more than 65% of voters who voted in favor of the project in the November 2021 town election.

On the topic of community support, the capital campaign, spearheaded by the Friends of the Jones Libraries, is close to meeting its interim fundraising goal. Information provided by campaign manager Ginny Hamilton shows that, as of March 1, the campaign has secured more than $4.65 million through institutional and community support. That includes $2.25 million from the community campaign, $1.36 million from state and federal grants, $1 million from the town’s Community Preservation Act accoun,t and $46,000 from foundations and financial institutions.

Trustee Lee Edwards, who seconded Sarat’s motion, said she supported the resolution because it is appropriate to reiterate their commitment, especially in light of the higher costs.

Trustee Alex Lefebvre, too, said she appreciated the opportunity to restate her support. An example of the limitations of the current building, Lefebvre said, is the lack of space for teen programming, illustrated by a coding program for girls that’s reserved use of the Woodbury Room, since no alternative location dedicated to teens is available at the library.

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