Members of the Andover High School building committee objected to punting their $480.9 million plan in favor of an interim school upgrade plan during a deep dive into the project’s finance Wednesday.

“”I think we need to all be eyes wide open that there is another generation of Andover students that will not have the benefit of a new building, and we can all weigh that as we will,” building and former school committee member Shannon Scully said. “We will need to revisit the educational plan that is the foundation of the entire project…it would all need to start over if this interim plan is in place for any period of time.”

Wednesday’s quad board meeting of the building committee, select board and finance and school committees was a precursor to a potential special town meeting, where the building committee would ask for $1.3 million to pay for a detailed design of its proposed high school. The meeting came after Town Manager Andrew Flanagan and Andover CFO Patrick Lawlor spent months collecting requests for, and then building, different financial models covering a wide range of scenarios.

With the potential to raise property taxes by more than 20 percent and lower the Town’s bond rating, the new high school project has become a divisive issue. Opponents have raised concerns it could make Andover more unaffordable and potential force some people to leave Town.

“These are very big numbers, and we can’t careen into this lackadaisically and put in a 20 percent property tax increase that will force people out their homes,” said Kevin Coffey, who ran for select board in March. “That’s not the right thing to do.”

The quad board is tentatively eyeing Oct. 18 for a follow-up meeting to review the financial models and potentially consider concerns raised b about the educational model raised by Scully and other building committee members.

Below, you can find a detailed breakdown of the key points and financial models reviewed during the meeting.

Quad Board meeting at a glance:

  • The quad board took no action and is tentatively eyeing Oct. 18 for a follow-up meeting.
  • State Sen. Barry Finegold (D-Andover) and other residents on both sides of the issue who spoke during the public comment period asked when voters would have a chance to weigh in on the project. “I’d just like to understand what the point of more discussion and scheduling more meetings around this before deciding whether to call the special town meeting,” said Claire Chiesa of Apple Tree Lane.
  • The building committee’s proposal cost the most for taxpayers, based on the cost of paying off the Town’s existing debt with new school debt as a percentage of average income.
  • A likely downgrade to the Town’s bond rating would add $26.9 million to the project’s financing costs and increase the cost Andover pays to take on new debt in the future.

1. What Does It Mean For Taxpayers?

To date, the Town has simplified the impact the project would have on residential property taxpayers by saying a new, $480.9 million high school would cost the average Andover homeowner an estimated $66,410, or $2,215 per year, over 30 years based on preliminary estimates. On Wednesday, however, they presented a more sophisticated model that added the Town’s schedule for paying off existing debt, MSBA funding, and the average impact as a percentage of per-capita income.

The models presented Wednesday did not include the usual potential tax increases that allow property owners to more easily assess their personal situation and compare the project’s tax impact to other projects.

“I don’t know if this is giving us a good picture of how the average person’s tax bill is going to go up,” finance committee member William Haskell said.

“It gets a little bit more complicated as we figure what’s the general increase, what’s an increase associated with this, and then what is that total is the percentage of property value,” Flanagan said. “So we didn’t do that analysis, but we certainly could as a follow-up in terms of what property values go up as what the tax value.”

Flanagan said the impact as a percentage of per-capita income is a measure of the Town’s ability to play. The model assumed 3.5 percent annual inflation over the life of the bonds and produced the average tax impact as a percentage of per capita income under four potential scenarios:

  • If the Town went ahead with the project without state funding next year, the tax impact on per capita income would be 2.4 percent.
  • If the Town waited for MSBA funding and was able to complete the project in 2036, the per capita income would be 1.9 percent.
  • If the Town waited for MSBA funding and was able to complete the project in 2036, the per capita income would be 1.8 percent.
  • If the Town waited for MSBA funding and was able to complete the project in 2036, the per capita income would be 1.9 percent.

The models did not, however, include the impact higher borrowing costs with a downgraded bond rating would have on the tax impact as a percent of per capita income. They also did not include projections for the interim plan, with Flanagan noting several times the concept was preliminary and had not been designed.

2. What About Upgrading The Existing School?

Officials gave their first serious consideration to an interim plan that would extend the life of the existing school for a decade or more until a new school couple be built with state funding.

Flanagan also presented a preliminary scenario for an $52.5 million interim plan funded over 15 years to bridge extend the life of the existing school until the new school could be built. Depending on the project’s final cost, the interim plan may not lower the Town’s bond rating. Athletic fields, new parking lots, and other site upgrades in an interim plan could also be used at a new school and preserve up to 49 percent of the interim plan’s cost.

“I think that’s an important point,” Flanagan said.

The plan would include roughly $11.5 million for 15 modular classrooms and seven modular science labs. An interim plan would also add teacher collaboration spaces that are in short supply in the existing school. The plan would also include $7.5 million for upgrades to the school’s cooling and heating systems.

Andover Facilities Director and building committee member Janet Nicosia said the use of modular units would “certainly add a burden onto our custodial staff.” She also argued interim plans have been considered since Andover first set out to replace the school in 2006.

“Where I’m struggling [is] we’ve done this already, and we decided not to do it,” Nicosia said. “So I guess I’m trying to understand Janet, why we’re revisiting that.”

3. Potential Impact On Town’s Bond Rating

The Town’s AAA bond rating would likely be downgraded to AA+ if the Town borrowed “substantially more than $50 million” for a new high school, Andover CFO Patrick Lawlor said. That would increase the cost of borrowing for all future capital projects, not just the school. The bond rating agency Standard & Poor’s would also view the Town’s debt profile as “very weak” under any school borrowing scenario presented at Wednesday’s meeting.

The rating downgrade would increase the project cost by $26.2 million. It would also increase the cost of $4.9 million in capital projects approved in this year’s capital improvement program to $6.3 million from $6.2 million in principle and interest payments.

Lawlor said the Town projects a 4.5 percent interest rate if its bond rating is downgrade to AA+. With principle and interest payments, the total cost of a $480 million high school project would be $884 million over 30 years.

If MSBA were to approve the project next year, the total cost at a 4.75 percent interest rate would be $910.2 million.

4. AHS Building Committee Proposal Without State Aid

Earliest Construction Start DateAugust 2025
Earliest Construction Completion DateOctober 2028

5. AHS Building Committee Proposal With State Aid

Earliest Construction Start DateJune 2030
Building Move-In Date2033
Completion of all construction2035
Total cost with 4% escalation & 17% MCAS Reimbursement *$485.5 million
Total cost with 4% escalation & 21% MCAS Reimbursement *$467.9 million
Total cost with 4% escalation & 23% MCAS Reimbursement *$450.4 million
Total cost with 5.5% escalation & 17% MCAS Reimbursement *$521.5 million
Total cost with 5.5% escalation & 21% MCAS Reimbursement *$502.6 million
Total cost with 5.5% escalation & 23% MCAS Reimbursement *$483.8 million
* Based on Town submitting statement of interest in 2025 and MCAS approving SOI in 2026.

Building and former school committee member Shannon Scully noted the only scenario where waiting for MSBA approval would be $450.4 million with the lower escalation rate and the higher reimbursement rate.

“This is important,” Scully said. “This is good to hammer home because there’s been a lot of questions in the community and I hope we can make sure that this is up on a website somewhere, so people can examine those closely.”

Share Your Thoughts!
10 thoughts on “5 Takeaways From The AHS Quad-Board Meeting”
  1. Two quick points I’d like to make about this:

    1. The Town does not levy income taxes, it has property taxes. The Town Manager talking about the tax increase as a percent of income instead of property tax is ridiculous and a disservice to the community, especially retirees.

    2. For the vocal crowd that wanted to move ahead with the AHS project now, it should be easy to get 200 signatures to petition a Special Town Meeting and put it to a vote they so clearly want, given the delaying tactics from the Town.

    1. Town meeting can not direct the town leadership to build a new high school. Town meeting can allocate funds – but the town leadership is not required to spend those funds.

      1. The Special Town Meeting that the AHS building committee wants is to authorize design funds, $1.3 million. As noted in the article: “Wednesday’s quad board meeting of the building committee, select board and finance and school committees was a precursor to a potential special town meeting, where the building committee would ask for $1.3 million to pay for a detailed design of its proposed high school.”

        The point is that they could petition to hold such a meeting instead of waiting to see if the Town would eventually call one, if they are serious. As you say, the Town could still refuse to spend Town Meeting allocated design funds.

  2. Still critically missing is a credible 30-year major capital projects “plan” (items likely to cost $50M or more) from our School Committee and Town leadership. Many residents felt sucker-punched when, immediately after approving record-high debt taking for West El and the POB, the likely request for even-higher new high school debt on top emerged. What other large projects are on our property tax horizon?

  3. This interim plan of Flanagan’s was done with no input from Andover educators. What’s his bottom line? It’s not education soundness.
    Over twenty portable classroom, surrounded by a security fence , will do wonders for the property values of Andover.
    To put so much money into a decrepit building ….how can the soundness of such a plan not be questioned ?

    1. Portable buildings are dangerous in micro burst and tornado situations. Abrupt severe weather is becoming more common and people should be safely in the interior of stable building. There should be a safety plan in place for all school and town buildings for when Andover is under a tornado warning.

    2. Why do you consider the building decrepit? There are no structural issues- it needs some new systems – like HVAC.

  4. The Select Board will surely schedule the requested Special Town Meeting as. Soon as they can assess when they and the Finance Committee can realistically be ready to take their “recommends for” or “recommends against” votes, as they are required to do for all warrant articles. The huge project cost and financing implications of the project just came to those boards this week and they, wisely, also will hear information about educational plans, needs, and impacts in a second quad-board meeting soon.

    Expecting those bodies to make considered recommendations to residents before receiving and discussing this information is foolish thinking. Asking the SB and FC to vote recommendations on the $1.3M additional design funds before deliberation of the larger project is also unrealistic, because additional design work will not significantly change the shape of the larger project and it makes zero sense to spend another million dollars down a path if the Town will not be able to support it.

    I appreciate, respect, and thank the Select Board and FinCom for their diligence on behalf of taxpayers.

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