Jones Library costs likely underestimated

Staff Writer
Published: 5/5/2017 11:32:08 PM

AMHERST — With potential costs for deferred maintenance at the Jones Library likely significantly higher than estimates included in a report released this week, library officials said Thursday that pursuing a state grant for an expansion and renovation continues to make practical and financial sense.

At a meeting of the Jones Library trustees, elected trustees and staff members observed that the information provided by Western Builders Inc. of Granby, which shows a projected $8.1 to $9.6 million cost for 13 deferred maintenance items, is likely unrealistic and doesn’t get the building fully compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

“The downfall of this (approach) is you will spend almost as much as if you got the grant, and will get a lot less,” Library Director Sharon Sharry said.

Next Wednesday, Town Meeting will be asked to approve the building program for a potential $35.6 million project to renovate and expand the building. The program would create a 65,000-square-foot building that would add 17,000 square feet to the existing 43 Amity St. building, which was constructed in 1928 and had an addition put on in 1993.

If the library gets a state construction grant from the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners, the project would come back to the town for around $15 million.

While the Western Builders report provides an estimate for needed renovations and repairs to the interior and exterior, it doesn’t take into account that if these repairs exceed $4.9 million over a three-year period — or about one-third of the $16.2 million assessed value of the building — then making the building fully handicapped accessible would be mandated.

“It’s pretty likely if we do anything important, we’ll trigger ADA,” said Christopher Hoffmann, the vice president of the trustees.

Trustees President Austin Sarat said getting to ADA compliance is something the trustees are eager to do and is a high priority.

The report does include about $100,000 in accessibility improvements, such as installing new floor handles and replacing the steps leading to the front door, but trustee Alex Lefebvre said more extensive work would need to be done by an architect.

Sarat said full compliance would be “orders of magnitude” more expensive for the library to undertake.

In fact, getting to a fully accessible building without an expansion would mean “hard choices,” trustee Lee Edwards said, as the space between stacks would be widened.

Trustees and staff, she said, would have to decide between reducing the collection of books, thus making the Jones less of a browsing library, or cutting back on the programming that serves all of the public.

“I think that’s the real kicker,” Edwards said.

Lefebvre said Western Builders’ cost projections would be about 12 percent higher once architects, designers and owner’s project managers are hired.

Trustee Tamson Ely pointed out that removal of any hazardous materials, such as asbestos “is totally not included in this estimate.”

Sarat said the lower end of Western Builders’ estimate, with work to be done continuously over weeks, is unrealistic since the library would not shut down for an extended period to get all work done at once.

But the library likely will have to be shut down for periods of time if some of the deferred maintenance is done. Repairing the atrium skylight, facilities supervisor George Hicks said, would be difficult, if not impossible, with patrons and staff inside.

“My recommendation would be to close the building,” Hicks said.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at


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