What’s up with . . . ?

By Sarah Marshall

Today, I bring readers up to date on two projects that have been highlighted in this blog over the past few months.

What’s up with the Jones Library renovation and expansion project?

Town Manager Paul Bockelman confirmed during a recent Community Chat that all lawsuits have been resolved, no appeals were filed, and that there are no legal impediments to proceeding with the project. Austin Sarat, President of the Jones Library Board of Trustees and chair of the Jones Library Building Committee, expressed hope that the energy previously directed at debating the project will now be focused on making the improved library the best it can be for the town. The goal is to hold a ribbon-cutting in the spring of 2025. The Building Committee has begun to meet and its first order of business will be to review the schematics designed by Finegold Alexander Architects that were released and discussed last year. Ken Romeo of Colliers is the Owner’s Project Manager.

Two subcommittees have begun work (agendas, etc. can by found here). A Design Subcommittee will work closely with the architects and make recommendations back to the Building Committee and up the chain of authority. In addition, an Outreach Subcommittee will:

  • Keep the community informed via in-person gatherings as well as the Library/Town websites, Engage Amherst, Library/Town social media, and email blasts;
  • Hold listening sessions in order to gather community input;
  • Respond to questions or concerns raised by the Jones Library Building Committee;
  • Make design recommendations to the Design Subcommittee.

Various sectors of the community may be specifically targeted at certain points or for certain purposes. For example, middle and high school students may be invited to contribute ideas for the Teen Room.

The cost of the project is fixed, so increases in construction and borrowing costs will necessitate design changes as the project moves forward. As for fundraising, the Capital Campaign Committee is still progressing toward its original goal of $6.6 million, half of which is to come from the community. So far, it has secured $1.5 million in local pledges and $1 million in CPA funds. It has submitted applications to the Massachusetts Cultural Facilities Fund and the Beveridge Foundation for significant funding, and will continue to seek grant opportunities. Amherst College also recently donated $100,000 to the campaign.

The much-loved Kinsey Memorial Garden will need to be moved. The Jones Library Trustees and the Kestrel Trust, with the support of David Kinsey’s widow, Carol Pope, have agreed to move plantings and other items to Kestrel property on Bay Road, either this fall or next spring. Possibly, the Historical Commission will need to consent to this arrangement.

Finally, the Town Manager noted that, contrary to rumor, the Massachusetts Attorney General is not investigating the project’s contracts.

Remember to visit our Jones Library page for links to project information.

What’s up with the Elementary School Building Project?

The goal is to open the new school in the fall of 2026. A significant milestone was reached earlier this month when the Preliminary Design Program (PDP) document was submitted to the Massachusetts School Building Authority (the document is huge – you can download sections of it here).

Much of the PDP is documentation of existing conditions, both of the Fort River and Wildwood sites and of the two buildings. The PDP also includes the Education Program and the Space Summary, both of which incorporate feedback from the Elementary School Building Committee (ESBC), community, faculty and staff, Town Council, and the Amherst School Committee. Submission of the PDP initiates a conversation with MSBA about the information therein. For example, the MSBA or the state’s Department of Elementary and Secondary Education might want additional information about or request changes to aspects of the Educational Plan or Space Summary.

The PDP also indicates that only the combined school options (for 575 students) will be evaluated going forward, because the 165-student, Fort River-only options could not satisfy the goals of the Educational Program. Now that sixth graders will attend school at the Regional Middle School beginning in the fall of 2023, the combined school will house grades K-5. A total of four construction options will now be explored, namely 100 percent new construction or renovation plus addition at one site or the other.

Between now and June 27, the four options will be fleshed out, with schematic building and site designs, plans to satisfy the zero-energy building bylaw, and more detailed costs developed in a document called the Preferred Schematic Report (PSR). This process will culminate in a vote for proceeding with one of the four options. The MSBA will vote in August on the PSR. After that, the next phase continues to develop the schematic design, project cost, and MSBA reimbursement rate. Next winder, Town Council is expected to vote to put a debt exclusion (override) to the voters in early spring of 2023.

Clearly, development of the PSR will be the focus of tremendous public interest. Will we renovate an existing school at Fort River? Build entirely new at Wildwood? Choose another option? Which site is better from a geotechnical respect, such as depth of groundwater, ability of soils to support a large building, etc.? Where and how can increased traffic be best handled? What will be the balance between maximizing daylight with lots of windows and reducing heat loss through windows? What will be the tradeoffs between capital costs and operating costs of the various building systems? The ESBC will be refining a list of criteria by which the four construction options can be assessed, and also planning opportunities for public outreach.

Remember to visit our Elementary school building project page for links to more information.

One thought on “What’s up with . . . ?”

  1. I would like to point out that the library and school, both “state-funded”, do not exist alone. Amherst’s capital needs also include the fire station and DPW hub, which are “locally-funded”. An intended benefit of the “state-funded” library and school is a savings in operating costs that helps pay for the “locally-funded” capital projects,

    And it is important to remember that “state-funded” is not some vague lottery that we won. It is our state income taxes paid forward over many years by the hard working people of Amherst, invested by the state and now re-invested in our future. The future does not belong to us.

    Thank you to our School Committee for their vision and, just as important, stewardship.

    Kevin Collins

    Liked by 1 person

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