Andover High School. Credit: Andover Public Schools

While the new Andover High School proposal is months away from going before Town Meeting, the project entered the Town’s process for approving construction when it went before the conservation commission Tuesday.

The project needs an Abbreviated Notice of Resource Area Delineation from the commission for its plan to identify and preserve wetlands bordering the school property. The meeting is one of what could me dozens of meetings where a new high school will be discussed, not to mention a year’s worth of meetings with the Andover High School Building Committee and other Town boards that are already in the books.

If you haven’t been paying close attention to the project’s ebbs and flows so far, now is the time to get caught up. And Andover News has you covered with this cheat sheet, which incluses a broad overview of where the project stands and the arguments on both sides of the issue that will be discussed in the coming months.

The Problem

Andover High School is overcrowded and out of date, and maintaining the 55-year-old school and 39-year-old Collins Center is expensive.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 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.

The Proposed Solution

After a year of discussion, the building committee proposed a preliminary design calling for a new school with a 250,000-square-foot campus-style layout and a 1,000-seat auditorium that would replace the Collins Center. With a preliminary estimate of $480.9 million, it was the cheapest of the three options the committee considered, but would still be the most expensive project in Town history.

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It’s time: Andover High School is overcrowded and out of date, and maintaining the 55-year-old school and 39-year-old Collins Center is expensive.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.

The Next Step

The building committee is preparing to ask Special Town Meeting for $1.3 million for a more-detailed, schematic design that would also provide a more accurate cost estimate. The building committee is also continuing its work to find ways to cut costs in the preliminary estimate. Meanwhile, Andover’s finance department is looking at ways to pay for the project and developing models that show the tax impact of different financing scenarios.

Additional Resources

One thought on “Crash Course: The New AHS Project”
  1. Are there not far more than a “handful of public high schools in Massachusetts that have not been renovated or rebuilt in the past 25 years”? What is the distribution of MA public high school by original building date?

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