Andover High School Building Committee Chairman Mark Johnson (file photo/Dave Copeland)

The Andover High School Building Committee and the public will get its first look at preliminary cost estimates for plans to renovate or replace the school on Thursday, and that has Chair Mark Johnson worried.

“My concern is people will get turned off by that initial number,” Johnson said last week. “It’s just a starting point….after the (schematic deign) step, we’ll have some idea of the project everyone wants and how much it will cost.”

Select board candidate Kevin Coffey has said replacing AHS will be the most expensive Andover has undertaken, and local government activist Mike Myers spent three months working up a cost analysis that put the bill at $430 million, based on West Elementary School construction costs. The project is big enough that the town has begun exploring options to get an exemption to state debt limits for municipalities.

But Johnson said Thursday’s meeting is just another stop in a long, community-wide discussion that started when the building committee formed last summer. The committee is continuing to collect community input and the real cost discussions will come this summer, when schematic design begins. The costs that will be revealed Thursday will give a sense of what different elements in the proposals will cost and inform the design of a new school or renovation.

“Everyone says the numbers on the 23rd is going to be the final number, but it’s not the final number,” Johnson said. “It’s just one step in the overall process. It will be good to have a number, and then we’re going to have to make some tough decisions.”

Town Manager Andrew Flanagan, who also sits on the AHS building committee, likened it to a home remodeling project.

“It’s like a kitchen remodeling project — you go in and pick out the cabinets and counters,” he said. “Then you see how much it’s going to cost, and you say ‘Okay, maybe we should go with the other countertops’.”

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