Andover High School Building Committee Chairman Mark Johnson signaled he wouldn’t rush a proposal to replace or renovate the school to a vote at town meeting.
“We don’t want it to be a rush to get a vote,” Johnson said at Thursday’s committee meeting. “We want to be able to look at everything and make sure we get input for the community.”
The committee has been loosely targeting a request for town meeting late next year. Under a timeline presented last week by project manager PMA, the building committee would whittle the choices down to one replacement proposal and one renovation proposal next month and make its final recommendation to the select board and school committee on Feb. 23. The building committee has repeatedly signaled it prefers replacing the school, which opened in 1968, over a renovation.
The school’s current enrollment is 1,709 students, and a 2017 demographic study suggested the town should aim to build a high school for 1,900 students. Under current guidelines from the Massachusetts School Building Authority, the existing school only has enough space for 1,400 students.
The current high school was designed for 1,200 students in grades 10-12 and opened along with Dunn Gym in 1968. The Collins Center was added in 1983. The last significant renovation came in 1995, when the science wing and field house were added, and the school was expanded to include ninth graders. AHS is just one of three high schools in Essex County that has not been replaced or had major renovations in the past 25 years.
Problems at the current school include outdated technology, poor insulation and mechanical ventilation, and small classrooms with poor lighting. Portions of the building do not meet current building codes or comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
“There’s really no question this needs to be done,” building committee member Nancy Kimelman said.
For a second straight meeting, the committee skipped over an item on the agenda calling for a discussion of the preliminary budget for the new school. Johnson said that discussion could be held as soon as the committee’s next meeting. The committee is pushing forward with the new project without state funding from the Massachusetts School Building Authority.
Thursday morning’s meeting came hours before the building committee held a public forum to discuss the project with interested residents. The committee continued a discussion on possible designs and schemes for the campus if the school were replaced or renovated that began at its Nov. 22 meeting.
A replacement or renovation could increase the size of the school by as much as 60.5 percent and allow it to accommodate up to 1,900 students, according to preliminary schematics.
The preliminary renovation proposal presented at the Nov. 22 meeting calls for as much as 140,000 square feet in additions to the existing school, which is 157,118 square feet.
A renovation would also present construction scheduling challenges to allow the existing school to remain open during construction. A renovation could take as long as five years, or approximately two years longer than new construction, according to designers.
Once approved, construction of a new school would take approximately two to three years.