Darcy Dumont: Jones expansion/renovation project definitely not sustainable now

Published: 06-13-2024 8:03 PM

In 2021, as a town councilor, I voted against funding the Jones expansion and renovation project because though it was wanted by many Amherst residents, it was not needed, certainly not like other projects in Amherst that are necessary for public safety, basic infrastructure, and the education of our kids.

And if a project isn’t needed, it’s not sustainable to build it. We already have two other public libraries in town, including a renovated North Amherst Library, and at least three college libraries. And we have libraries at every K-12 school. So there is no urgent shortage of library space or services.

Finegold Alexander Architects, the architects for the Jones Library project, also designed the addition to the Holyoke Public Library. Now that library addition was needed. I worked at the Lawrence School at the time, which is across the street from that library.

The Lawrence School was one of the three “downtown schools” with over 90% of students living in poverty. The number of kindergartners arriving with letter recognition was far below the state average. The school didn’t have a library, but those kids got to cross the street weekly to have library class in the new library addition and take library books home. And of course the HPL is the only public library in Holyoke.

The Holyoke expansion/renovation project took a tiny library from 22,257 square feet to 40,000 square feet. The Jones expansion and renovation project would take a large library from 48,000 square feet to 63,000 square feet.

The Jones project has now abandoned many of its core sustainability commitments that were endorsed by its own Sustainability Committee and touted by the library trustees. From the committee members’ statements that carbon sequestration makes Jones renovation an investment in sustainability, and that the Jones library project would create a sustainable and resilient building, to the committee vote in May 2022 to keep the design green, to the final FAA design goals package and design and sustainability presentation, to creating a building budget that included key sustainability elements, the Jones trustees and Sustainability Committee conveyed a commitment to carrying through with building sustainability.

Changes now proposed by the trustees would eliminate solar panels, would not replace single-pane glass in windows with double- or triple-pane insulated glass, and would replace cross-laminated wood with carbon intensive steel. The asphalt roofing that is to be substituted for metal and synthetic slate would have a life expectancy of 15-30 years compared to 100 or more for the slate. Its use could prevent adding solar panels later since the roof would have a shorter life expectancy than the solar panels.

Town Councilor Cathy Schoen andresident Jeff Lee have pointed out the need for the removed sustainability elements in their recent writing in the Gazette and the Amherst Indy website.

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Schoen has pointed out that the cuts include using materials that have shorter lifespans, are more maintenance-intensive, and decrease the building’s energy efficiency.

We should have a Jones Library that fits the “new normal,” and we can do that at a reasonable cost with a repair/retrofit that can be spread out over time. In any case, we are now looking at getting about half the library we were promised at twice the price. A lot of folks originally signed on to this because of the environmental/sustainability promises. The Jones folks are now telling us that those promises were not important or were not to be taken seriously.

Though the Jones endowment is contributing $551,000, a required redesign by the architects could run to $800,000, according to lead architect Ellen Anselone. And that’s in addition to the expected construction cost escalation between now and September of between $900,000 and $1.2 million,  according to Owners Project Manager Tim Alix. If the project moves forward, the trustees are almost certain to come back in November and ask the town to contribute even more money for this ill-conceived, poorly planned, and poorly managed project.  

The Town Council will vote this Monday, June 17, on a motion by Schoen, postponed from the previous meeting. The motion would advise the Town Manager to not sign the contract with the architects approving the trustees’ latest value engineering, which would eliminate the remainder of the historic preservation and environmental features of the project.

Please contact the Town Council at towncouncil@amherstma.gov before the Monday’s meeting to ask them to support Schoen’s motion.

Darcy DuMont is a former town councilor and sponsor of the legislation creating the Amherst Energy and Climate Action Committee. She is a founding member of Zero Waste Amherst, Local Energy Advocates of Western MA, and the Amherst Climate Justice Alliance and a non-voting member of Valley Green Energy Working Group. She can be contacted at dumint140@gmail.com.