Jones trustees ask Amherst town manager to reject library bid

The Trustees for Jones Library on Monday voted 6-0 to urge Town Manager Paul Bockelman to reject the lone bid for renovating and expanding the library.

The Trustees for Jones Library on Monday voted 6-0 to urge Town Manager Paul Bockelman to reject the lone bid for renovating and expanding the library. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

By SCOTT MERZBACH

Staff Writer

Published: 05-13-2024 4:58 PM

AMHERST — Trustees for the Jones Library are recommending that the lone bid for renovating and expanding the Jones Library, which is at least $6.5 million above projected costs, should be rejected.

In 6-0 vote, the elected trustees advised Town Manager Paul Bockelman not to accept the $42.7 million general contracting bid from Fontaine Brothers Inc. of Springfield, as well as sub bids for the project.

With the vote, Austin Sarat, president of the trustees, encouraged the buildings and facilities subcommittee to accelerate consideration of an alternative plan as soon as possible, with this plan addressing the building’s most immediate needs.

Bockelman has until June 10 to accept or reject the bid, and indicated he would use the time to determine options for the project. One option is asking the state’s Board of Library Commissioners, which is providing $13.8 million toward the project, whether a delay in accepting bids is possible, with Finegold Alexander Architects noting that a more favorable bid environment may exist in the fall.

While subcontractor bids received last month were on target, the town received only one general contractor bid. “We will continue to explore, as much as we are able, why this was the situation,” Sarat said.

Independent, professional estimates were made throughout the planning process and had assumed the town would receive at least three bids.

The trustees thanked Jones Library staff for their adaptability and perseverance, and Sarat praised Library Director Sharon Sharry, in particular, for having “a steady hand on the wheel.”

Sharry acknowledged the difficulty for staff, who had been preparing to move into temporary space next month and would have done off-site programming. “Staff are experiencing every emotion under the sun,” Sharry said.

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“Regardless of people’s opinions about the renovation and expansion, there is no disagreement in the town about the value that everyone puts on the work we do at all three branches,” Sarat said.

With some form of renovation now being explored, there are questions about whether money raised during the ongoing capital campaign can be directed toward that.

Trustee Lee Edwards, who co-chairs the capital campaign, acknowledged the difficulty any delay poses for getting more donations. “The stop and start nature of the project does not inspire confidence in the donor base,” she said.

“We will really only know what can be raised from the community when we are sure we are breaking ground,” Edwards said.

Edwards said one of the most effective ways for people to understand the needs at the building are guided tours she has led, in which she shows the teen area that she calls a “disgrace.”

Combined with other fundraising commitments, including over $4.5 million from the community, the capital campaign has secured over $9.6 million as of May 1. This is addition to the $15.8 million committed by the town of Amherst and the $13.8 million initial grant from the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners, an amount that increased due to inflation caused by the pandemic.

Sarat said trustees will now see what money pledged could be used to provide support for renovations and whether there is $1.8 million available in the next three years to go forward with HVAC system repairs and replacement and urgent fixes to the atrium roof.

Edwards said officials also need to figure out how to communicate with donors to figure out how to fulfill their pledges, should the full-scale project not go forward.

Trustees will meet again May 20 at 9 a.m. to further explore alternatives to the current proposal.

“We are not done,” Sarat said.

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