The Andover High School building committee voted Monday to withdraw a warrant article for May’s annual Town Meeting that would have allocated $1.3 million to design a new school.
The town is nearing its state-mandated debt limit as the building committee continues its push to build or renovate AHS without assistance from the Massachusetts School Building Authority. The building committee discussed the possibility of calling a special town meeting late this summer or early this fall to fund the schematic design. Under the committee’s original timeline, the schematic design funding would have been approved in May and a special town meeting and election would have been held early next year for final approval of the project.
“If we’re asking taxpayers for funds, we need to make sure we have the legal authority to proceed with the project,” Town Manager Andrew Flanagan, who also sits on the building committee, said.
The board voted 10-0 to withdraw the schematic design article.
The state prohibits towns from taking on debt greater than five percent of its cash value. The town’s current debt limit is $510.2 million, with approximately $409 million in available debt capacity. Some types of debt are excluded from the cap — including debt to build new schools in partnership with the MSBA.
The town was in the early stages of finding a workaround for the potential glitch in starting construction after special town meeting approval next year. Flanagan said those options include legislative changes and filing special legislation for an exemption for the AHS construction project.
The town could also seek approval from the Municipal Finance Oversight Board, a state body which can approve increasing a debt limit to as much as 10 percent. MFOB approval could, however, impact the town’s bond rating.
The town has successfully obtained exemptions in the past by filing special legislation. But Flanagan said the town is also talking with state legislators about overhauling the state’s rules on debt. With MSBA likely to be funding fewer projects as costs escalate, the situation is likely to affect other school districts in the coming years.
Monday’s virtual meeting was called after the committee canceled its March 23 meeting, delaying release of preliminary cost estimates to this Thursday. Chair Mark Johnson said Monday the committee would discuss the cost analysis on Thursday.
Since 2008, MSBA denied eight applications the town filed for help to build a new high school. Since forming last summer, the Andover High School Building Committee has wanted to move forward without state funding, saying MSBA is unlikely to approve the project until the town closes the West Elementary School Construction project.