Inflation pushes price tag for Amherst’s Jones Library project up by $11.6 million

  • Patrons enter the Jones Library in Amherst on Friday in 2021. Skyrocketing construction costs projected for the expansion and renovation of the library are creating a budget gap of $11.6 million that town and library officials could soon have to address. Gazette file photo

  • An artist’s conception shows a renovated and expanded Jones Library. Skyrocketing construction costs projected for the expansion and renovation of the library are creating a budget gap of $11.6 million that town and library officials could soon have to address. RENDERING/jones library

Staff Writer
Published: 8/11/2022 3:44:47 PM
Modified: 8/11/2022 3:41:32 PM

AMHERST — Skyrocketing construction costs projected for the expansion and renovation of the Jones Library are creating a sizable budget gap that town and library officials could soon have to address.

The Jones Library Building Committee this week learned from Craig DiCarlo, the owner’s project manager from Colliers Project Leaders, that the $36.3 million project approved by voters last fall is facing an $11.6 million funding gap.

“In short, the news that I have to deliver is frankly not very good,” DiCarlo said at Tuesday’s meeting.

Where the so-called hard costs, including construction of the building and landscaping, were pegged at $26.9 million when the project was approved, those hard costs are now estimated at $38.5 million, if the project breaks ground in October 2023. The increase is being attributed to rising inflation that’s hurting construction projects nationwide.

In fact, the projections for hard costs have risen by $7.7 million just since April, when those costs were estimated at $30.8 million for a project to break ground next June.

The latest cost estimate is based on a cost reconciliation process that averages figures provided by Fennessy Consulting Services, which was hired by Finegold Alexander Architects, and Rider Levett Bucknall, which was hired by the town.

DiCarlo told the committee that a series of strategies may be necessary for dealing with this budget gap, including:

<sbull value="sbull"><text xmlns="urn:schemas-teradp-com:gn4tera"></text></sbull>“Aggressive cost-cutting” that could save $4 million.

■More than doubling the capital campaign from $6.6 million to $14.6 million.

■Some combination of reducing expenses and increasing fundraising.

■Backing out of the grant the project is receiving from the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners.

While no decisions have yet been made on the avenues to pursue, Trustees President Austin Sarat said that the building committee, as well as the trustees, will be facing hard questions.

“There’s a large discussion that is going to have to go on beyond this committee,” Sarat said. Trustees were scheduled to meet on Thursday afternoon.

Still, Sarat said he is confident that fundraising and grants available will allow the town and trustees to come to a level of comfort on covering the gap.

Town Manager Paul Bockelman said he expects an iterative process to get underway that will allow the trustees and other officials to determine what opportunities there are for modifying the plans.

DiCarlo said the aggressive cost-cutting, or as he puts it the idea of “making bigger moves,” is the only way to reduce costs by a significant amount. The main ways could be eliminating the sawtooth skylights, eliminating access to the third floor, reducing landscaping and replacing cross-laminated timber with structural steel.

“These are not easy decisions,” DiCarlo said. “These are somewhat painful things that erode what the town and the library are trying to do.”

He said such maneuvers might also complicate fundraising, as the community would not be getting the building it is envisioning.

Reducing the size of the building, which is supposed to increase from 48,000 to 63,000 square feet, is also likely not a mechanism that can be used, as the state board is unlikely to approve a project that is smaller, DiCarlo said.

Sarah McKee, a former president of the trustees who has been critical of the scope of the project, wrote in an email that in light of the cost escalation, the preferred option should be to relinquish the state grant.

“The one realistic course is undoubtedly to decline the grant from the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners,” McKee wrote. “It would require the town to reimburse the board for amounts already received. But it would free the town from costly MBLC space requirements that are manifestly unfeasible for us now.”

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