Posted on: December 14, 2016

We have some very exciting news about our school facilities project.

We have some very exciting news about our school facilities project.  Last night, the Andover School Committee voted to select West Elementary School as a priority for submitting a statement of interest to the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) to renovate or construct a new a new elementary school.  To add to this excitement, the Committee also voted to appoint a “building committee” to lead a feasibility study to expeditiously address the building needs at Andover High School.

The MSBA, the state agency that provides funding and oversees school building renovations and construction, generally only considers one proposal at a time, leaving us faced with a difficult decision on which school to select for consideration.  Through our facilities assessment process, three buildings were identified as critically needing repair, renovation or replacement: West Elementary School, Doherty Middle School and Andover High School.

Prioritizing was not an easy decision because all three need our attention.  The Committee spent considerable time seeking input and considering which building was most likely to be accepted by the MSBA and which would maximize the Town’s reimbursement from the MSBA.

West Elementary was built in 1951 and needs a good deal of work to address both building and instructional conditions.  The Committee carefully weighed the options and decided that it made sense to submit West Elementary for consideration since constructing a new elementary school will cost more than making renovations at the high school. The statement of interest that will be submitted to the MSBA will focus on the physical condition of West Elementary, and hopefully lead to the construction of a brand new elementary school, and may also include a plan to construct a new middle school on the same property.  

The statement of interest is due to the MSBA in April. The MSBA process is a lengthy one and the district won’t learn if the project has been accepted until February 2018. The earliest a new or renovated school would be open is 2021 or 2022. MSBA receives approximately 90 proposals for its core renovation or replacement program a year and funds only 15 to 20 projects. Andover received funding from the MSBA for the Bancroft Elementary School with a contribution of approximately 40% of the costs of construction.

In the meantime, the Committee offered a creative solution to swiftly address problems at the high school independent of the MSBA by appointing a “building committee” to take a look at the high school building needs and lead a feasibility study.  This committee will be comprised of members from the community, APS and the Town of Andover, and will begin addressing the needs at the high school. The major concerns include overcrowding, lack of cafeteria space, and renovation of the media center. Other conditions that will be considered are poor heating, ventilation and lighting, inadequate parking, and fire suppression systems.

In addition, the administration will be assessing the need for capital improvements at the Doherty School until such time as a statement of interest to MSBA can be submitted for that school as well.

As you may know, the problems with all three schools were identified through a larger, town wide facilities assessment of school and town buildings that was performed in the late Spring of 2016 by MGT of America. When developing the master plan for Andover, MGT focused on four areas of assessment: site conditions, building conditions, technology readiness and suitability. For school buildings, suitability focuses on how the condition of the building impacts the educational process.

The firm also solicited community input from a previous forum held back in February 2015 and through an online survey. MGT then crafted a 10-year master plan, taking into consideration the community input, along with the mission, goals and educational programs of the district, projected enrollment and the status of selected town facilities.  The project schedule and projected budget maximizes the resources of the district and reflects the priorities of the community at large.

After MGT’s findings, we then held four tours and forums to get your feedback in order to prioritize work.  I’d like to thank each of you who have contributed to this effort. Presentations on those forums are posted at: Facility Forums - MGT Facility Plan along with a general description of the problems faced by each school.  

Finally, we’d like to say that these are important investments that we need to make for our children’s future. Research shows that the condition of a school building has a sizeable and measurable influence upon a student’s achievement.  We owe it to our students to provide optimal learning environments. The decision last night represents a great step forward in achieving that goal. We will continue to update you on our progress.

Shelley Berman and Joel Blumstein

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