Bob Pokress doesn’t pull punches when he talks about the proposal to build a new Andover High School with a preliminary, $480.9 million price tag.
“The members of the senior community…I have spoken are unaware of the disastrous impact on their property taxes of this building proposal being aggressively pushed by the School Committee,” Pokress, an advocate for Andover seniors, said. “For the senior community living on a fixed income, the property tax increase associated with this proposal is a hard punch in the gut of town seniors by Town of Andover leaders.”
When municipalities vet proposals new schools, one of the biggest challenges is getting seniors to buy in to the project. Seniors vote more frequently in local elections, and, with grown children, may not be willing to foot the bill for a new school. The key for passing a school construction proposal is getting seniors to buy into the argument that increased property values and other benefits will offset the higher taxes.
But in Andover, many elders were worried about being able to afford to stay in Town long before the new high school was first proposed in the mid-2000s. Andover is moving forward without state assistance from the Massachusetts School Building Authority, meaning the more than 20 percent tax increase will likely price them out of Town.
At the current, preliminary price tag, a new high school would cost the average Andover homeowner as much as $66,410, or $2,215 per year, over 30 years. Waiting for state aid to build a new Andover High School could raise the cost for taxpayers by as much as 14.3 percent, according to a rough estimate the school building committee reviewed in May.
Pokress likened the preliminary design to a “Christmas wish-list” and said the “back-breaking property tax increase and will be financially disastrous for town seniors.”
“Andover’s property taxes will go ballistic under this proposal if an upcoming vote to proceed on this totally unjustified proposal were to be approved,” Pokress said.
Pokress and Joe Ponti raised those and other concerns during the public comment session at the Aug. 15 select board meeting. Next month, they’ll make a 30-minute presentation to the Council On Aging on Sept. 13 and to the select board on Sept. 18.
The next hurdle for the proposed new high school is a special town meeting to approve $1.3 million for a detailed design. Proponents expect the schematic design will bring the final cost of the project lower.
The select board has yet to set a date for the special town meeting. When the select board, as expected, accepts the high school building committee’s request for a special town meeting, it would need to be held within 35 days.
“The seniors all effectively ask the same question,” Pokress said. “‘Where do town leaders expect us to come up with an extra several thousand dollars a year to pay the huge property tax increase associated with the town spending half a billion dollars to replace what is effectively an almost new building only 26 years old?’”