Jones Library renovation costs pegged at $14.4 to $16.8 million

  • Jones Library in Amherst FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 7/14/2020 9:46:44 PM

AMHERST — As librarians grappled with water damage to books in the Jones Library special collections department caused by a malfunctioning HVAC system, library trustees were told Amherst would have to spend at least $14 million to fully repair the library, based on estimates for making the 48,000-square-foot building fully handicapped accessible and “like new,” according to a local architectural firm.

The water problem, the fourth significant leak in the past five years in the special collections, damaged more than 150 volumes (story, Page A1).

Aelan Tierney, president of Kuhn Riddle Architects in Amherst, told the Town Council Monday that thoroughly renovating the building, from repairing the skylight in the atrium to upgrading the mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems, could cost between $14.4 million and $16.8 million.

The estimate shows the costs to Amherst should town officials opt against pursuing an expansion and renovation project that has been approved for funding by the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners.

The latter $35.6 million project, which would add 17,000 square feet to the Amity Street building, relies on a state construction grant, and is the preferred option for library trustees. The project would not only make all necessary repairs and make the building accessible, but ensure there is sufficient space for programs. But it depends on the Town Council approving $15.08 million in borrowing to match a $13.87 million state grant.

Without pursuing the grant, the library would not get additional space for special collections and the English as a Second Language program, a dedicated area for teenagers, and more room for young children and their parents.

The work by Kuhn Riddle expands on a 2017 report from Western Builders of Granby. That report showed there were between $8 and $9.5 million in deferred maintenance needs to be addressed in both the original 1928 section of the building and the 1993 addition.

Tierney’s presentation provided two options, both with phased approaches, for renovating the building.

Under the first option, which would be done over a span of 82 weeks and require the library to be closed and relocated twice, the cost would be $16.8 million. This would include an initial phase in 2021 of restoring the skylights and repairing the south elevator, doing exterior renovations in 2024 and doing the interior mechanical, electrical and plumbing work in 2026.

Under the second option, interior work would take place in 2022 and exterior work in 2024. The library would only have to be relocated once amid 52 weeks of construction, with a cost estimate of $14.4 million

“Both of these options would bring the building into full compliance, and provide the building with new systems which would last 25 to 50 years, before systems would require replacement,” Tierney wrote in the report. “These projects would not increase the library space or modify or improve the program spaces within the library.”

How soon decisions will have to be made by the Town Council is unclear, as state construction grants which had been set to be released this month are likely to be pushed back during the pandemic.

Whatever happens, Austin Sarat, president of the trustees, said he worries that waiting to make decisions about fixing the building could mean a “cascade” of problems develop over time.


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