File photo: Andover Public Schools

A joint meeting of the select board, and school, finance, and Andover High School Building Committees Wednesday will determine whether the Town moves forward with a Special Town Meeting to approve $1.3 million for a detailed design of the proposed, $451.5 million Andover High School project.

The meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. in the Robb Center, and is being anticipated by both opponents and proponents of the project. Backers say the project is crucial for the future of Andover Public Schools. Opponents say the project is too extravagant and a property tax increase of more than 20 percent will make Andover unaffordable for many residents.

The building committee voted in August to request the select board to call a special town meeting to ask for $1.3 million for the new school’s schematic design, which would give more precise estimates than the preliminary estimate of $451.5 million, If the select board approves the request after the quad-board meeting, the special town meeting would have to be held within 35 days after.

5 Things To Know Before Wednesday’s Quad Board Meeting

The current proposal calls for 250,000-square-foot campus-style layout and a 1,000-seat auditorium that would replace the Collins Center. Here are the key points to know when the quad-board meets Wednesday:

  1. Backers say Andover High School is overcrowded and out of date. Maintaining the 55-year-old school and 39-year-old Collins Center is expensive. The building, which was originally built for 1,400 students, has been expanded twice, is at 95 percent classroom capacity. AHS does not meet current Americans With Disabilities Act and Massachusetts standards for new schools. Andover is one of a handful of public high schools in Massachusetts that have not been renovated or rebuilt in the past 25 years.
  2. The Town is still a ways off from final approval of the project. If the Town calls a Special Town Meeting, the body would only consider approving the $1.3 million schematic design. Final approval of the project would have to come from a future Town Meeting and would also need to be approved by voters in a special election.
  3. The quad board will look at financing options, not the actual design and proposed school’s amenities. Andover Town Manager Andrew Flanagan and CFO Patrick Lawlor have been preparing financial models for different scenarios based on meetings with the boards and collectingnrequests by members for more information during those meetings.
  4. As is, the project would impact future Town spending. Flanagan said he expects to have a detailed analysis by Standard & Poor’s of the potential impact on the Town’s bond rating when it borrows for the new school. The Town is moving forward without state assistance after having 10 applications for funding from the Massachusetts School Building Authority.
  5. Not all elected and appointed officials are committed to backing the project. In recent years, Andover has typically recommended Town Meeting approve capital projects with unanimous votes. But select board member Christian Huntress has said Andover can’t afford a new high school, and Select Board Chair Melissa Danisch and Finance Committee Chair Paula Colby-Clements have asked for the Town’s professional staff to prepare financing models for alternatives to building a new school, including medium-term upgrades. Members of the finance committee have also signaled skepticism in meetings leading up to the quad board meeting.

The Big Issues: Pros and Cons

See all Andover News coverage of the new Andover High School project, or click on links

It’s time: Andover High School is overcrowded and out of date, and maintaining the 55-year-old school and 39-year-old Collins Center is expensive. The design for a new school is based on the educational plan developed by the school building committee and includes a new, 1,000-seat auditorium to replace the Collins Center.The price tag: While the new school’s design was the cheapest of three options considered, and the building committee is looking to trim costs, the school will likely cost more than $400 million and could raise Andover residential property taxes by more than 20 percent.
Waiting for state help may raise the cost: The building committee opted to move forward without funding from the Massachusetts School Building Authority. Not only would waiting push back the start of construction by up to 10 years, it could raise the cost by 14 percent, according to the building committee.Waiting for state help may lower the cost: Taking on debt for the new school without MSBA help will likely lower Andover’s bond rating. That will raise taxes by raising the interest on future borrowings in the municipal bond market, including debt for capital projects.
No other options: Discussions on replacing the school started getting serious in 2006, and MSBA has rejected 10 Andover applications for state aid to help offset the cost. While the building committee only formed last summer, a prior feasibility committee considered several other options to address the space crunch. The building committee considered 12 preliminary designs before narrowing the field to three, including a renovation of the existing school, a design that kept and made improvements to the Collins Center, and the design now being debated.Not enough options were considered: Christian Huntress cast a dissenting vote when the Andover Select Board approved the plan chosen by the building committee in June. Huntress said other options needed to be considered, including moving ninth graders to a middle school built for half the enrollment of a new high school. “I’m not saying we need to pursue any of these, but we need to ask all these questions and make sure we considered all options,” he said. “Right now, the project is too expensive, and we need to look at an option we can afford.”

Other concerns have been raised about how well the new school will meet codes under the Americans With Disabilities Act and about the accuracy of enrollment projections that led to the building committee to choose a design that could accommodate 1,900 students.

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