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

The Andover High School Building Committee acknowledged at a public forum Thursday and its regular meeting Thursday that replacing or renovating Andover High School without state funding will be a tough sell to voters.

The committee has opted to move forward with the project after repeated denials for state assistance from the Massachusetts School Building Authority. Andover cannot apply again for MSBA assistance until the ongoing $168 million West Elementary School construction project is closed out. The committee estimates waiting for state funding would delay opening until at least 2032.

“This is the first non-MSBA project Andover has done, and we know it’s not going to be an easy process,” Building Committee Chair Mark Johnson said at Thursday’s forum (video). “The goal of the building committee is to present to Town Meeting a thought out project – one that we vetted, one that we spent time getting input from the community and an eventual course that we hope will be acceptable for members of the town.”

Cost Remains A Question

The big wildcard remains the cost of the project. The committee has said a preliminary cost estimate will not be available until its March 23 meeting. The cost will be impacted by whether the board opts for a renovation or new construction, and whether the new construction includes a parking garage and whether the board opts to repair the Collins Center or replace it with an auditorium in the new school.

“The decisions we’re going to be making over the next month are to narrow down the options…then get some high-level pricing on it,” Johnson (main photo) said. “These will all be preliminary, ballpark numbers.”

Current high school construction projects in Massachusetts have costs ranging from $505 to $862 per square foot:

ProjectDate of ApprovalCost Per Square Foot
Arlington High SchoolApril 2019$573
Doherty Memorial High School (Worcester)August 2020$633
Pentucket Regional Senior High SchoolApril 2019$561
Sharon High SchoolOctober 2019$505
Stoneham High SchoolAugust 2021$741
Wakefield High SchoolDecember 2022$862
Waltham High SchoolFebruary 2020$721
Watertown High SchoolOctober 2021$536
Average Cost$642
Source: Massachusetts School Building Authority

Based on the committee’s preliminary estimate of 252,228 square feet in the new school and the average in the table above, a new high school could cost in the neighborhood of $162 million. That rough estimate does not include borrowing and design costs.

Renovation Least-Likely Option

The building committee has repeatedly signaled it prefers building a new school. And renovating the existing school would not necessarily be a cheaper option on a cost per square foot basis, although the overall cost could be significantly cheaper.

According to MSBA, eight current high school renovation projects have costs ranging from $456 to $725 per square foot, or $597 on average. The preliminary renovation proposal presented at the committee’s Nov. 22 meeting calls for as much as 140,000 square feet in additions to the existing school, which is 157,118 square feet. Based on the MSBA average, that would bring the back-of-envelope renovation estimate to $83.5 million.

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.

Tours Highlight Problems At Existing School

The Andover High School Building Committee offered tours of the existing school prior to Thursday’s forum. The committee will also is offer student-led, drop-in tours at Andover High School on Jan. 21 from 9:30 to 11 a.m.

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.

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.

Once approved, construction of a new school would take approximately two to three years.

Tentative Timeline

  • Jan. 21: Second round of tours of existing high school for community members.
  • Feb. 9: Building Committee selects two building options — one for renovating the existing school and one for new construction — for pricing.
  • March 23: Preliminary cost estimates presented to HS Building Committee.
  • April 27: Building committee chooses to recommend renovation or new construction.
  • May 2023: Select board and school committee asked to approve building committee’s recommendation.
  • May 2023: Town Meeting asked to approve schematic design funds.
  • September or October 2023: Cost estimates performed.
  • Jan. 2024: Town Meeting asked to approve construction funding.
Share Your Thoughts!
3 thoughts on “Replacing Andover High ‘Will Not Be An Easy Process’”
  1. Using the average per square foot build cost in the table is likely misleading. There is less than zero chance that a new Andover HS “could cost in the neighborhood of $162 million.”

    As a starting point, I’d take the most recent example, Wakefeld HS, at $862/sqft and already 34% above the average. Then, because inflation is certainly still strong, the Andover HS site has real building challenges, and Andover will inevitably be “deluxe,” I’d add another 34% to get a starting estimate of $1155/sqft, or $291M for the 252,228 square feet in the committee’s preliminary estimate. But even $291M feels low to me.

    The West El project won’t be completed for $168M. Already an elevator, the solar structures for environmental power, and other things have been pulled out of the initial build because it was so far over budget. But those things and more will all get put back in and the final-final cost, if we are ever able to see it, will be nearer $200M. High schools are inherently more expensive to build than elementary schools because of the more complex infrastructure they require–equipped science laboratory and media production spaces and equipment, as examples.

    From a taxpayer perspective, I really hope my $500 estimate for a new high school, all-in, done, and fully equipped, might be high. What is your estimate?

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