Dec. 29—It was a busy year for official business in Andover, with multiple Special Town Meetings dominating much of the year, and plans for future schools staying top of mind.
Two Special Town Meetings
This year Andover held two Special Town Meetings. The first — the result of a citizen petition — was held in May alongside regular Town Meeting. The second Special Town Meeting took place in early December and approved an extra $16.4 million in order to help fund the West Elementary Shawsheen building school project, which was over budget due to rising costs nationwide.
While the residents petitioning for the first Special Town Meeting saw two of its' six considered articles passing, it is unclear if they will ultimately have any impact.
An article narrowly passed that would use COVID-19 relief funds to support a one-time stipend for Andover Instructional Assistants, food service workers and any other educational professionals. Town Counsel Tom Urbelis was of the opinion that Town Meeting didn't have the power to issue the stipend and the Andover School Committee filed a complaint against a union, who's members were involved with getting the article passed. Both parties are awaiting a hearing and the School Committee has said they have no intention of implementing the article at this time.
Another article passed which would prevent the town from using non-disclosure agreements with employees. Urbelis has given the opinion that the article was advisory only. Town Manager Andrew Flanagan, said the town intends to comply with the article, but said in a memo that it does not represent a policy shift.
This year regular Town Meeting voted to begin a process to determine if the current High School building should be renovated or replaced. School officials say the update is necessary due to the overcrowding in the current space.
The design process is funded with $1.5 million approved during Town Meeting. The committee in charge of the process began meeting in July. The Andover High School Building Committee is currently in the feasibility section of the planning and is looking at a number of concepts.
The town has faced multiple rejections from the Massachusetts School Building Authority regarding the project and will be going forward without their help.
The family of teacher Colleen Ritzer and DiNisco Design reached an agreement on a civil suit brought against DiNisco by the Ritzers.
The lawsuit followed the rape and murder of Andover woman Colleen Ritzer, who was killed by one of her Danvers High School students in 2013. The architectural firm designed the wing of the school where Ritzer was killed.
The amount of the settlement was not disclosed.
"This litigation was never about assessing blame on any civil Defendant," said the Ritzer family and DiNisco in a joint statement released to the media. "The only person to blame for the murder of Colleen is serving a life sentence in prison."
Philip Chism, who was found guilty of Ritzer's murder, is currently serving a 40 years-to-life sentence.
Nguyen, Finegold win reelection
Representative for the 18th Essex District seat Tram Nguyen retained her seat this election season. The 18th Essex District includes parts of Tewksbury, North Andover, Boxford and Andover.
Nguyen beat Tewksbury businessman Jeff Dufour, who unsuccessfully ran for the same seat in the 2020 election. Nguyen was elected to the seat in 2018, after beating incumbent Jim Lyons, and has held it since.
For a profile in The Eagle-Tribune, Nguyen said her key issues are reducing the impact of inflation on families and local business, including costs associated with child care and wage theft.
Incumbent for the Second Essex and Middlesex state Senate seat, Barry Finegold also won reelection over his Republican challenger Sal DeFranco.
This year Town Meeting approved a $213.6 million budget, which represented a 3.5% increase over the last fiscal year. Of the total $213.6 million, $95 million was allocated toward Andover Schools. Articles passed included article 18, which approved $8 million towards design renovation and construction at Doherty Middle school, and $1 million towards the Andover High School design project. Article 23 was passed which totaled $6.6 million in capital improvements, the vast majority of which went to water main replacements.
Town Meeting also approved a resident submitted petition which allowed the Town to lower the speed limit in thickly settled areas in Andover, with no posted speed limit, from 30 mph to 25 mph. The change was adopted by the Select Board this fall.