Andover High School Building Committee holds its first meeting

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Jul. 21—Wednesday, July 13, the Andover High School Building Committee held its first meeting after an article passed during Town Meeting to appropriate part of $1.5 million for a high school design project.

Town Manager Andrew Flanagan emphasized the scale and importance of the project during the initial meeting.

"A project of this magnitude, it doesn't matter what the outcome may be, it is going to be a heavily deliberated project that there will be a lot of attention on," Flanagan said. "This is the biggest thing that we have on the horizon right now."

A new or renovated high school has been thought of as a way to rectify overcrowding in the existing building.

"A project of this scope can't be funded within our year over year general fund budget, so what typically has to happen is two different levels of approval," Flanagan said.

He explained that the project would need approval at Town Meeting and at the polls. Similar approval would be needed for a debt exclusion, which Flanagan describes as an increase over the 2.5% limit of a property tax hike.

It would last for the remainder of the debt. In an interview, Flanagan said a debt exclusion is normal for projects of this size.

"So the approval is high to get an approval at Town Meeting and I think the burden is even higher to get it (on) the ballot, which just makes it all the more important to take in that public input in the beginning," Flanagan said.

The project will be proceeding without any assistance from the Massachusetts School Building Authority after multiple rejections for funding from that group.

"The School Committee made the decision, and the basis for the decision was that the increase cost of waiting may at some point exceed the value of the grant from the MSBA, meaning the project would be become so much more expensive by waiting (a certain) amount of years that it may actually be more cost effective to proceed sooner. And in order to proceed sooner you would have to do it without the MSBA's support," Flanagan said.

He added that the School Building Committee's first priorities will be to get public input and insight from the Select Board and School Committee.

Flanagan said the process will include public forums where the scope of the project is defined for residents.

Mark Johnson, who previously served on the West Elementary Building Committee and the Andover High School Facility Study Committee, is serving as chairman of this newly formed group and emphasized how far-reaching the impacts of a new high school would be.

"The High School is the only school in Andover that every Andover student will go through, if they are staying within the public school (system), Johnson said.

Other members of the Andover School Building include Andover School Superintendent Magda Parvey, former School Committee Member Shannon Scully and Director of Facilities Janet Nicosia.

Nancy Kimelman, an Andover resident and economist who currently teachers at Northeastern University and serves on the Andover Investment Committee, is also a member.

Flanagan said all options are still on the table for the project, including a renovation over new construction.