Last update: 10:20 p.m.
Andover Special Town Meeting voted to not move forward with a detailed design of a new, $451.5 million Andover High School, effectively erasing more than15 months of work by the Andover High School building committee.
Special town meeting was asked to approve $1.3 million for a detailed design of a new $451.5 million Andover High School, as well as $500,000 to fund a study to look at upgrades that could be made to extend the life of the building. The so-called “interim plan” passed on a hand vote after electronic voting devices — which had worked on the previous seven articles — failed to certify the vote.
It was the one noticeable glitch of the night in Andover’s first attempt to use electronic voting after Annual Town Meeting approval in May. Moderator Sheila Doherty opted to use the devices for all major votes.
The stakes in Monday’s school votes were high: failure of the schematic design funding will likely send the Town back to square one in an effort to replace AHS that started in 2008. But moving forward with the project threatens Andover’s bond rating and would raise the cost of future borrowings for a wide range of projects.
While special town meeting could have voted to approve both articles, as both the school committee and select board recommended, proponents and opponents of the new high school framed it as an “either-or” decision.
“I don’t know of many articles — certainly not in my lifetime — as charged as this one,” Doherty said.
Opponents argued a new high school would raise taxes more than 20 percent and called the building’s design excessive.
- It was the best-attended town meeting in recent history, with more than 1,900 registered voters signing in.
- All but one of the six citizen-petitioned articles on the warrant failed.
- The Town’s first foray into electronic voting almost went off without a hitch. Moderator Sheila Doherty called for all of the major votes to be conducted electroniclly, but the system failed to count an entire section of voters on Article 7B.
“We desperately need a new high school,” Andover High School teacher Mary Robb said. “Having said that, we do not need the Taj Mahal.”
AHS Building Committee Chair Mark Johnson stressed special town meeting was not giving final approval to the project. That would require another town meeting vote and special election. He an other proponents noted that the schematic design would likely reduce the cost even further.
“This vote will allow the community to have all the information to make an informed decision in the future as to whether to go forward with the project,” Johnson said. “Multiple additional votes would be required. This vote does not approve a building project.”
Andover Town Manager Andrew Flanagan said the so-called interim plan would look for ways to update the school for about $50 million, with the hope of extending the life of the existing building until Andover is in a better financial position to borrow and would be more likely to get state aid to offset the costs.
Special Town Meeting Notebook
Overflow crowd delays start of meeting (7:05 p.m.): Hundreds of people packed into the Collins Field House at Andover High School and were on hand as the 2023 Andover Special Town Meeting got underway. The start of the meeting was delayed by three minutes and Doherty waited to admit non voters until voters were seated.
“We may need the seats,” Doherty said after a line of people waiting to check in was “stretched around the building.”
Article 1 passes (updated 7:50 p.m.): Andover Special Town Meeting approved an article that will put a nonbinding question on the ballot in the March town election asking whether Andover should retain its open town meeting form of government.
The vote followed fiery debate and marked the first time Andover used its new electronic voting devices. The vote was 1,181 in favor, 692 opposed and 32 abstentions.
After Kathy Grant, the petitioner, reserved the remaining minute of her time to rebut any arguments from the town, Town Counsel Doug Heim said the Town Charter does not allow a special town meeting to put a question on the March town election ballot.
What to know about Andover News coverage of tonight’s special meeting:
- Don’t forget to review and print our special town meeting cheat sheet before you head to the Collins Center. It’s loaded with info from where to park to what to know before you vote.
- We’ll be offering live updates at www.andovermanews.com.
- We’ll also be offering live updates on Instagram, X/Twitter, and Facebook. Follow @andovermanews on all three platforms to keep on top of the action.
- All Andover News coverage of town meeting is available to all readers, regardless of subscription status.
- Town Meeting info on Town of Andover Website
- 2023 Special Town Meeting Warrant
- Information on Andover Moderator Sheila M. Doherty
- Town Meeting FAQs
- Massachusetts Secretary of State’s Citizen’s Guide to Town Meetings
- Finance Committee Report
What is town meeting?
Andover is the biggest Massachusetts town by population to have an open town meeting, one of two most common forms of town government used in the state. In the other form of town meeting, voters elect representatives by ward or precinct.
“The purest form of democratic governing is practiced in a Town Meeting. In use for over 300 years and still today, it has proven to be a valuable means for many Massachusetts taxpayers to voice their opinions and directly effect change in their communities,” according to the Secretary of State’s Citizen’s Guide to Town Meeting. “Here in this ancient American assembly, you can make your voice heard as you and your neighbors decide the course of the government closest to you.”
Town officials have said the matter was settled by the Town Governance Study Committee, which submitted a report last year recommending Andover retain its open town meeting. The ballot question “would shed no light on what form of government would best serve the Town, or why,” Select Board member Annie Gilbert said in opposition to article 1.
Article 2 fails (updated 8:15 p.m.): Mike Meyers (photo, below), a local government activist who petitioned to get articles 2, 3, and 4 on the warrant, verbally sparred with Doherty as debate on article 2, which would cap the annual property tax increases for homeowners over the age of 65 at 2.5 percent.
Heim said the change proposed by Meyers are not allowed under state law, as it would set a two-tier tax system where people under 65 would shoulder more of the tax bill, while Andover CFO Patrick Lawlor outlined existing tax relief programs for seniors.
The article failed 1,433-479 in an electronic vote.
Article 3 fails 1,529-349 with 60 abstentions (updated 8:30 p.m.): The second Meyers article also focused on Andover’s seniors, and would’ve split the premium contribution for retirees and make it the same as active employees had it passed. The change would only impact retirees who remain on the Town’s insurance and retire before 65, when they not yet eligible for Medicare.
Flanagan said if passed, the change would cost taxpayers over $242 million over the life of funding the liability, which Annual Town Meeting approved in 2016.
Article 4 fails (updated 8:45 p.m.): Meyers ended the night 0-for-3 on the articles he sponsored after special town meeting rejected article 4, which would have give equal time to town meeting petitioners and town officials. The electronic vote was 1,508-359 with 69 abstaining.
Doherty took the rare step of speaking on the article, saying other town meetings had regretted putting time clocks, which was also proposed in the Meyers article. “Every resident of this town has three minutes to speak” at town meeting, Doherty said. “I’m asking you to defeat this article. I don’t believe it’s an efficient use of your time.”
Article 5 fails (updated 8:55 p.m.): The speed limit will not be lowered to 25 MPH on nine Andover roads after Article 5 failed. While several town officials said they appreciated the spirit of select board candidate George Thorlin’s proposed bylaw change, state restrictions and the need to study the impact of such changes would make them problematic.
The electronic vote was 376 in favor, 1,603 opposed, and 69 abstaining.
Article 6 fails (updated 9:15 p.m.): Thorlin’s second traffic safety article sought to create a committee to monitor traffic safety and how the Town enforces traffic rules. The article failed after officials noted Andover bylaws does not allow special town meeting to form committees or commission studies. “While the article is well-intentioned, no committee can dictate how the Andover police force…is deployed,” select board member Chris Huntress said.
The measure failed on a 1,404-395 electronic vote, with 69 abstentions.