Jones trustees vote to use endowment to keep $43M renovation project afloat

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

Staff Writer
Published: 8/23/2022 9:00:17 PM
Modified: 8/23/2022 8:56:41 PM

AMHERST — Trustees for the Jones Library are renewing a pledge to use the $8.6 million Jones Inc. endowment to make sure the expansion and renovation of the Amity Street building can begin next year, even as the estimated project price tag jumps by several million dollars.

In a 5-1 vote Monday, with Robert Pam the lone dissenter, trustees approved a worst-case scenario that would deplete the endowment, annually used to support some library operations, so project costs are covered.

The affirmative vote by trustees also comes with an advisory for the Town Council to press ahead and not pause or abandon the project, which depends on a $13.8 million grant from the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners. The Town Council next meets Sept. 12.

The trustees’ decision aims to close the gap between the original projected costs of $36.3 million and the current, inflation-adjusted estimates that put the project at between $43 million and $50 million.

“I don’t think we should pause and reject the money and try again,” trustee Tamson Ely said. “That’s ludicrous.”

Instead, the endowment should be used to secure the plans.

“I know it’s daunting and scary, but I don’t see an option other than to go forward,” Ely said.

“My biggest concern is not moving forward,” said trustee Alex Lefebvre before casting her yes vote. “I fear what will happen to the library.”

“I believe really strongly in this project, and for me this seems the only path forward,” said trustee Farah Ameen.

Ameen said too many individuals have worked hard over the years to get more than just repairs at the building. “I feel like Band-Aids are not going to help at this point,” Ameen said.

“The case for moving forward is as strong today as when we first made it,” said trustees president Austin Sarat, adding that he doesn’t want to minimize the higher costs being confronted.

Pam, though, said the level of risk to operations makes him uncomfortable, and the responsibility for seeing the project through to the end shouldn’t rest on the endowment.

Trustees have already identified changes to the proposed building expansion that will shave costs, and ways to step up the capital campaign to go beyond the original $5.6 million commitment.

Previously, trustees entered into an agreement with the Town Council that would “backstop” the $6 million or so fundraising effort. The trustees’ vote to expand the use of the endowment is contingent on renegotiating that arrangement with the town.

Library Director Sharon Sharry presented details showing that cutting the contribution from the endowment by $90,000, from the usual $330,000 taken annually to support library operations, would be painful, but doable.

“If we were to lose that much money in the endowment, it would hurt operations,” Sharry said.

If $5 million were taken from the endowment for the project, though, leaving the fund with $3.6 million, and a continued 4% annual draw, operations would get $185,478 less. Under a worst-case scenario, the endowment would be left with a $2.8 million deficit.

Still, Sarat expressed confidence in the approach, mainly due to contributions from the community.

“Fundraising efforts so far have been tremendously successful,” Sarat said, pointing to the $500,000 remittance to the town already made.

Trustees have also found $3.3 million in cost savings so far.

Ken Guyette, a representative from the owner’s project manager Colliers, outlined $1.5 million in cost reductions in the project, such as saving $575,000 by putting in concrete sidewalks instead of stone and granite pavers, and cutting $300,000 by using acoustic ceiling tiles rather than a wood ceiling.

Another $2.1 million in potential savings, though, has been rejected, including a $320,000 reduction by using a standing seam metal roof in place of slate, and a $495,000 reduction by using a skylight in place of a sawtooth roof.

Colliers always looks for value engineering, but is limited without the ability to reduce the size of the building, Guyette said. “We did an exhaustive search for items to present,” Guyette said.

Other ways of managing the cost increases include a $750,000 reduction to the cost escalation projection, eliminating $1 million in furnishings and assuming $2.5 million more in Massachusetts historic tax credits.

The trustees have also sounded a note of urgency with the project, calculating that a delay of two months would add $726,000 to $1.1 million in costs, along with causing the capital campaign to lose steam.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at


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