- What is the purpose of the West Elementary project?
The West Elementary facility project is intended to work in collaboration with the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) in order to address and resolve the identified physical and educational deficiencies of West Elementary School, as well as potentially the Shawsheen Preschool. West Elementary School was built in 1951 and added to in 1968. The Shawsheen facility was constructed in 1923. Both facilities are past their functional life in terms of building systems and instructional programming.
- What is the MSBA?
The MSBA is a state government authority that partners with local communities to create affordable, sustainable and energy-efficient public schools across Massachusetts. Created in 2004, the MSBA provides reimbursements to communities based on a predetermined percentage of eligible school construction costs. The MSBA’s revenue stream consists of one penny from the state’s 6.25 percent sales tax. In order to receive partial reimbursement from the MSBA, the district/community must adhere to a multi-year/multi-step process of planning, document submission/review, vendor selection, and negotiations with the MSBA.
- What process was followed to identify West Elementary for this project?
In 2012, the district’s Plant and Facilities Department worked with Pare Corporation to pinpoint needed site improvements districtwide. West Elementary was identified as a priority, with major concerns involving inadequate exterior lighting, ponding/poor drainage near the playground, inadequate parking, deteriorating driveways and walkways, and multiple instances of non-compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Much of this exterior maintenance was deferred, awaiting a decision about the viability of the overcrowded building.
In January 2016, the Town of Andover and Andover Public Schools (APS) contracted with MGT of America Consulting to evaluate the condition of every district building and then develop a master plan to address facility needs through 2026. MGT presented its report in June 2016. Next, the School Committee undertook further research and gathered input from interested stakeholders through surveys, tours, and forums. In December 2016, the School Committee identified West Elementary as its top building improvement priority based on the overcrowding of the building and the numerous facility deficiencies that have a negative impact on student outcomes, some of which are cited below.
The classrooms in the 1968 addition, which represents a large portion of classrooms at West Elementary School, were designed around the open-school concept prevalent in the 1960s and have been walled into separate rooms, thereby creating problems in heating and ventilation as well as for usable space for classroom and support programs. In addition, the two pod areas that were added in 1968 pulled away from the main infrastructure and have since been bolted to the main structure to ensure no further separation. The plumbing is antiquated and insufficient as demonstrated by having only one toilet for 110 boys in the pod for grades 2 and 3. Over sixty percent of the windows are not double-paned and are in need of replacement to maintain heat in the winter. Many of the building systems and site conditions are in poor order and would require significant investment to repair or replace. The classrooms are outdated in terms of providing a modern instructional program with varied space and room configurations. The main administrative office is poorly located for effective supervision and coordination. The sprawling structure of the building with its numerous exterior entryways compromises supervision, security and safety.
- What factors were considered in deciding whether to seek an addition/renovation or new construction?
Over a period of months, the West Elementary School Building Committee considered several options for renovating and adding to the current West Facility as opposed to building a new school. Multiple factors were discussed.
Construction of a new facility:
- Can be completed in less time.
- Is less disruptive to the ongoing instructional program.
- Results in greater operating efficiency and less maintenance.
- Is less costly.
- May be more environmentally friendly by creating less demolition waste.
The Committee determined that an addition/renovation would fail to adequately address the problems of the current West Elementary facility and would not be a responsible use of funds for the long term. The Committee decided that the construction of a new school, with a preschool wing attached, constitutes the most cost-effective means of providing a physical environment that can support high-quality education services for the identified student population for the next 50 years.
- Why does West El need a new or renovated building?
OVERCROWDING: West Elementary School is grappling with severe overcrowding. Inappropriate spaces such as repurposed closets and offices, the cafeteria, stage, and hallways have been converted to provide small-group instruction, ELL programming, and special education services. In 2016-17, some of West’s kindergarten students had to be relocated to other district schools because of lack of space. However, relocating students is not a viable long-term solution, because Andover’s elementary schools lack the combined capacity to serve the projected growth in overall elementary enrollment. The district’s current K-5 capacity is 2,718; MSBA projects enrollment will reach 3,011 by the year 2026 and MGT projects it will reach 3,025.
EDUCATIONAL NEEDS: West Elementary lacks adequate space that is appropriately configured within the building and that is outfitted to meet the educational needs of its student population (e.g., one kindergarten classroom had to be placed in the grade 5 wing; that classroom lacks a bathroom). Current classrooms do not meet MSBA size guidelines, do not allow flexible use of space, and lack storage capacity. There is a lack of adequate space and appropriate facilities to address the needs of English language learners and students with special needs, including building accessibility.
HEALTH AND SAFETY: West Elementary is an outdated and aging facility that has demonstrated the potential to have a negative impact on the health and safety of students and staff. Excessive lead in a section of water pipes and in a dozen faucets and drinking fountains was remediated in 2017. Following a 2017 report from EBI Consulting, steps were taken to mitigate issues related to dust, moisture and mold; the air quality is tested and monitored regularly. The building lacks a fire suppression system. The administrative offices are in the center of the building, making it difficult to control and monitor access to the building.
AGING STRUCTURE AND MECHANICAL SYSTEMS: The condition of the West Elementary facility is in serious decline. The aging structure and mechanical systems (plumbing fixtures, temperature controls, electrical outlets) result in higher maintenance and operating costs, as well as increased energy consumption. Two pods were added in 1968 to house the classrooms for grades 3-6. After decades of use, and now serving grades 2-5, the pods pulled away from the main structure and had to be bolted back in place in 2017. Part of the basement is prone to minor flooding, and fending off mold is an ongoing battle.
SITE AND GROUNDS: Echoing the Pare Corporation’s 2012 report, the MGT report in 2016 rated the West Elementary site and grounds as “poor” (scoring 69 out of 100).
- What is the history of the current West Elementary facility?
The current building was constructed in 1951. A 1956 addition enabled the school to serve grades K-6. Another expansion in 1968 added a media center, cafeteria, auditorium, gym, two classroom pods, and other spaces. In 1988, West was reconfigured to serve grades K-5, in alignment with the district’s other elementary schools.
The current building has 90,611 square feet. Much of the school was built in an open-space concept without classroom walls, causing visual and auditory distractions. In 2001, the classrooms in the two pods were walled in, creating problems with heating and ventilation. Considerable time and expense have been devoted to unsuccessful attempts—such as movable partition walls—to remedy these design flaws that impede teaching and learning.
- Is an enrollment of 925 the right projection for West Elementary?
In 2013, the Town of Andover commissioned Barry Bluestone, Director of the Dukakis Center for Urban and Regional Planning at Northeastern University, to perform a demographic and economic analysis of Andover to illuminate future trends. Bluestone found that Andover was growing at a faster rate than other Greater Boston communities, in general, and forecast significantly more growth between 2020 and 2030. He also projected the aging of Andover’s population so that during that decade the number of Andover residents in their 70s would grow by 99.4% and the number in their 80s would grow by 61.0%. Over the coming decades, these individuals likely would downsize from larger single-family homes to other types of residences. He pointed out that “aging Boomers may wish to ‘age in place’ but not in their current homes” and projected that this phenomenon would open up a significant number of homes to new and younger families moving into Andover.
Working from the 2010 census, Cropper GIS conducted an analysis of householders’ ages in each of Andover’s elementary school attendance areas. The study found that, of the five schools, West Elementary School’s attendance area had the highest proportion of householders (27.7%) ages 65 years and older, while also having the lowest proportion of householders (45.1%) between the ages of 35 and 54. These findings mean that West Elementary is likely to see the most significant increase in enrollment as older individuals downsize.
Based on Bluestone’s analysis, coupled with significant home and apartment construction in Andover over the past decade, the school district pursued three demographic forecasts. MGT of America projected elementary K-5 student population reaching 3,025 within the next decade. A second analysis, by Cropper GIS, projected elementary enrollment reaching approximately 2,800. The third analysis, by MSBA, provided a ten-year projection averaging 2,939. The total K-5 capacity of Andover’s elementary schools as assessed in 2016 was 2,718, although that figure has since been reduced due to the conversion of space for programs for English language learners and students with special needs. None of the population analyses considered the projected increase in kindergarten enrollment once tuition for full-day kindergarten is eliminated, which will take place in 2020-21. Given that both the South Elementary and Sanborn Elementary facilities will last for several more decades and are already near or above capacity, West Elementary will need to be of sufficient size to absorb future enrollment increases throughout the district.
MSBA, which tends to be conservative in its enrollment projections, authorized West Elementary to be built for 925 students in order to address enrollment growth over the coming decade, understanding that the district would need to redraw elementary school attendance areas to address current and projected overcrowding at several of the schools. Although economic trends and the coronavirus pandemic have delayed the downsizing by senior citizens and the resulting movement of new families into the community, the rapid growth of apartment complexes and home construction in Andover combined with future downsizing trends will necessitate building a school of sufficient size to address future enrollment needs for a minimum of twenty to thirty years.
- What is the extent of the overcrowding at the current facility?
With a current enrollment of nearly 600, West Elementary is essentially at capacity. Since West’s building was last expanded in 1968, the following streets and areas have been developed: Andover Country Club Lane, Trevino Circle, Cormier’s Way, Crenshaw Lane, Muirfield Circle, Ivana Drive, Swan Lane, Trumpeters Lane, Dove Lane, Bobby Jones Drive, Westminster Road Way, Endicott Road, Wescott Road, Worthen Place, Haskell Road, Shadow Lane, Scotland Drive, Stafford Lane, Warwick Circle, Stirling Street (upper), Whittemore Terrance, Southridge Circle, Irongate Drive, Sutton Way, Pauline Drive, Noel Road, Powder Mill Square, Michael Way, Bryan Lane, Heritage Lane, Delisio Drive, Ruggerio Way, Meadow View Lane, Newman Hill Road, and perhaps others. Numerous new projects are under construction or in the planning phase in Andover, which will put additional pressures on providing adequate instructional space for new students.
Requirements for learning environments—particularly around special education, English Language Learning (ELL), and remedial education service delivery—have changed in the decades since the facility was constructed or enlarged, requiring significant additional instructional space.
West Elementary is the district’s largest elementary school by enrollment; its utilization rate now stands at 100% (which means every space is in use) and is projected to reach 116% by 2026.
Small-group instruction, ELL programming, and special education services take place in repurposed closets, the cafeteria, stage, hallways and learning spaces that are disconnected from students’ primary learning setting. Some of the repurposed closets have no windows and no means of receiving heat or ventilation.
The MGT Master Facilities Study scored West Elementary “poor” for educational suitability (69 out of 100), citing specific concerns that the current classrooms fail to meet MSBA size guidelines, do not adequately support educational programming, do not provide flexible use of space, and lack sufficient storage.
The current pressure on capacity at West is being felt most keenly at the kindergarten level, as more students (currently 92%) enroll in full-day kindergarten rather than half-day. In 2013-14, West served 42 children in full-day kindergarten, compared with 77 in 2019-20.
In 2019-20, West Elementary School students were served by 120 faculty members, administrators, and support staff. Office spaces and conference rooms are almost non-existent, having been turned into instructional areas. Parking space is insufficient to accommodate staff, visitors, and delivery vehicles.
The overcrowding is detrimental to the educational program. Classrooms are too crowded to support student collaboration, hands-on authentic learning, and the creative instructional approaches that teachers yearn to implement. The school has only one small maker space, though MSBA recommends two. From the arts to the sciences and from technology to physical education, the school lacks available and appropriate spaces to offer the depth and breadth of curriculum and support services that the students deserve—a condition that over time has a negative impact on both student achievement and teacher morale.
- What is the scope of the proposed project?
If approved, the West Elementary project will provide a facility to accommodate a K-5 population that is approximately 50 percent larger than West’s current student body. The student population at West will include not only the growth in student population within its own current district, but also students redistricted from other elementary schools to relieve overcrowding at those schools and enable them to provide improved instruction. The new West Elementary School will be designed to support the educational needs of students in alignment with up-to-date pedagogy and instructional materials/equipment. It will provide BRIDGE program students, who are on the autism spectrum, with appropriate small-group and therapy spaces, and will continue to serve medically fragile children above the age of five. The building will also provide adequate meeting/office/planning space for the adults who are tasked with delivering high-quality education programs.
Another key component of this building project will simultaneously address the facility and education programming needs of the current Shawsheen special education preschool population. A specially designed wing will be attached to West Elementary to expand the district’s ability to provide an appropriate education and related services to the students now served at Shawsheen Preschool and to increase the number of such students who can be served.
The site (driveways, sidewalks, playing fields, exterior lighting, etc.) will be redesigned for safety, ADA compliance, and to support the instructional program.
- Why is the Shawsheen preschool being considered as part of this project?
Shawsheen has long been identified as a structure beyond its useful life and an expensive building to operate. Attempts to move Shawsheen PK-3 classrooms to Bancroft as part of that building project were only partially successful; grades K-3 moved but the special education preschool program remained at Shawsheen. Major issues with the Shawsheen facility and location are as follows.
Opened in 1923 to grades 1 through 7, the Shawsheen School now houses only the district’s PreK special education programs, particularly for students with severe autism, developmental delays, and other significant disabilities. The school does not share a campus with any other Andover school, contributing to a sense of isolation for its relatively small staff and student population. The aging building, designed for a much different educational era, places significant limitations on service delivery and also presents safety concerns. The facility is situated on a hill and has entrances at multiple levels along the hill. Although outwardly a three-story structure, the building is internally divided into five separate levels with limited accessibility between levels. There is no one place that all five levels intersect, making the use of an elevator unfeasible. The one handicap ramp leading into the facility is not code compliant; it leads to the building’s only chair lift, which itself enables access to only two of the five levels. The restrooms and cafeteria are on different levels; although these areas have been renovated in an effort to address student needs, they remain largely inadequate. Some stairwells are small, particularly those leading to some restrooms, making it difficult for adults to provide hands-on assistance as needed on the stairs. In the nurse’s clinic, all medical treatment must be carried out in a single open area; the bathroom is not handicap accessible and is not large enough for medical assistance to be provided without compromising the student’s privacy. Some facets of best-practice instruction and therapy are limited by the old design of the Shawsheen structure; for example, given the high ceilings, there is not a safe place to mount a ceiling beam for suspending a swing for sensory therapy. Areas of the building have been divided to support programming; for example, what was once the auditorium is now divided into a music room, library, and classrooms with some of these spaces accessible only by stairs. Inordinate amounts of time that would otherwise be devoted to instructional activities must instead be spent assisting students to move among the multiple levels, often with only one child at a time able to use the lone chairlift. The multiple levels of the building also compromise egress in the event of a fire or other emergency. These accessibility issues are in part responsible for out-of-district placements that currently cost Andover taxpayers more than $400,000 per year.
Although the foundation and exterior structure of this 100-year-old building are solid, building systems are highly inefficient and at the end of their useful life. The age of the building systems makes it difficult to maintain a safe and healthy temperature in the school. In the winter, there are areas that remain very cold and during a heat wave the school can become oppressively hot. The building’s high ceilings preclude proper cooling from portable units, and at times the school has been closed due to excessive heat. The inability to control classroom temperatures is a serious issue because it hinders the use of Shawsheen for housing the extended school year services that are mandated for most young children with identified educational disabilities. Finally, despite its reputation as an excellent PreK program, Shawsheen is not eligible to apply for National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) accreditation status because of the health and accessibility issues within the building.
- EDUCATION AND RELATED NEEDS: The Shawsheen facility was constructed in 1923. This outdated building is inadequate to serve the education and related needs of its preschool student population, most of whom have been identified as having significant special needs.
- ACCESSIBILITY: The school is split into five levels with no elevator, only one chairlift between two floors, and an access ramp that is not currently code compliant. The restrooms and cafeteria are on different levels, adding to problems with accessibility for a population that consists primarily of students with special needs.
- MAINTENANCE COSTS: Shawsheen serves a small number of students. In terms of maintenance costs, it is not efficient for the district and town to operate this separate building and site. The MGT report in 2016 rated the Shawsheen building as “poor” (scoring 63 out of 100).
- HEALTH: In addition, components of the facility are showing the effects of age. One of Shawsheen’s drinking fountains was discovered in 2017 to be allowing excess levels of copper to enter the water. To protect the health of students and staff, the fountain was quickly removed and the pipe was capped.
- LEAST RESTRICTIVE ENVIRONMENT: Shawsheen’s physical separation from the rest of the district contributes to a sense of isolation. It offers a less than optimal means of meeting the federal requirement regarding least restrictive environment, which mandates that preschool students with special needs be afforded the opportunity to learn with nondisabled peers.
- How are Andover school buildings maintained?
The town has a robust maintenance program and the Department of Facilities employs staff in the trades of carpentry, energy management, HVAC, painting, plumbing, masonry, security, electrical and fire systems. The department also manages maintenance and construction projects and uses in-house staff for many small construction projects throughout the schools.
At each school, custodians regularly perform minor repairs and preventive maintenance. Additionally, the town work control center has tradespeople on call around the clock to address repair needs, major equipment services, and acute problems.
Andover buildings are well maintained and run efficiently. We are not in need of new facilities because of a lack of maintenance. Rather, some buildings have passed their expected lifespans and/or exceed the enrollment for which they were designed and/or do not meet today’s educational requirements.
- Will the current West Elementary continue to be maintained during construction of the new West Elementary/Pre-K facility?
Yes, West Elementary will continue to be maintained, particularly with respect to safety and security. As systems need repair, they will be addressed. Any critical items that fail (such as a boiler) will be replaced. However, major capital improvements that are non-critical (such as new windows) will not be undertaken.
- What is Shawsheen’s current enrollment and what is the capacity of the proposed preschool wing?
Shawsheen accepts new students throughout the school year on a rolling basis; the enrollment grows as children turn three years old. The school often ends the year with more than 100 students. Shawsheen’s enrollment in April 2020 was approximately 100 students, including ±35 typical peers. The new preschool wing will be able to accommodate a combined total of 130 students (those with special needs plus typical peers), a capacity that is based on projected population growth over time.
- What is West’s current enrollment and what is the capacity of the proposed elementary school?
West El’s enrollment in 2019-20 was nearly 600 students. The capacity of the new elementary school will be 925 K-5 students. MSBA, which tends to be conservative in its enrollment projections, has authorized West Elementary to be built for 925 students in order to address their projection of enrollment growth over the coming decade, as outlined in question # 7. Additionally, West houses the districts most intensive special education programs that often require varied configurations and additional space to serve the educational needs of children enrolled in these programs. Finally, this allows for the district to continue working toward the goal of smaller elementary class sizes, a desire of both Andover educators and parents. It is critical given projections that the school is constructed to address growth for the next 50 years and to ensure that the significant growth anticipated in the current decade does not result in the school opening at capacity, thereby leaving the community in a similar situation as exists today.
Including the wing for the preschool population, the capacity of the entire proposed facility will be 1,055 PreK-5 students.
- Will this project involve any redistricting of elementary student attendance areas?
Yes. A redistricting plan will be developed as the West Elementary project nears completion. As part of its enrollment projections, MSBA understands that the district would need to redraw elementary school attendance areas to address current and projected overcrowding at several of the district’s other elementary schools. Several APS elementary schools are currently at capacity, requiring the conversion of non-instructional spaces to instructional purposes to support student needs. Students will be redistricted to the new West Elementary in order to relieve the overcrowding at the other four elementary schools. The redistricting will also enable us to eliminate Sanborn Elementary School’s modular classrooms, which are well beyond the end of their useful life.
APS has an additional 83 students (ages 3-22) in out-of-district special education placements. If West is constructed in a way that gives it adequate space, makes it physically accessible, and enables it to offer programming that accommodates the needs of these current out-of-district students, we anticipate that a number of them in PreK-5 will choose to return to Andover.
- What is the physical status of Andover’s other elementary schools?
A new school is projected to have a useful life of 50 years. Sanborn Elementary and South Elementary were partially renovated in 1995 and are in substantially good condition. High Plain Elementary was constructed in 2003 and Bancroft in 2014. If approved, the new West Elementary will be the last elementary school to be built in Andover for the foreseeable future. Therefore, it is critical that this proposed facility address the enrollment needs that will emerge over the coming decades.
- How will a new West Elementary facility improve the program that is offered to the K-5 students at West?
Over the past decades, the delivery of K-5 education has changed significantly. Spaces to accommodate new instructional methodologies are being incorporated into the design of a new school.
Larger classrooms that align with MSBA’s recommended size will enable teachers to provide more differentiated learning activities and to group students flexibly to promote their engagement. The larger classrooms will also accommodate the space-intensive FOSS science curriculum and the classroom libraries that are essential to the district’s integrated approach to literacy and social studies.
The new school will include physical accessibility of all spaces and equipment, complementing the teachers’ use of universal design for learning strategies that provide access to the curriculum for all students. Other features will include spaces for teacher collaboration, classroom furnishings that allow for flexible use—particularly for project-based learning and team teaching, venues to display student work, two maker spaces to promote authentic learning, and school-wide integration of technology.
To support the development of smaller learning communities , each grade’s classrooms (K-5) will cluster around its own Neighborhood Commons. Each commons will be furnished with comfortable seating and tables that students can re-arrange during the day to fit their needs for collaborative work. This Neighborhood Commons approach will ensure that students are known well by a number of peers and adults who work closely with them, thereby supporting social-emotional growth. The Commons will also promote students’ development of independence and self-directed learning. This design element is similar to the one implemented at Bancroft Elementary school.
The BRIDGE program for students on the autism spectrum will have large classrooms, each with a bathroom and adjacent breakout area. A separate sensory room will be provided. All classrooms will have special attention to lighting, color, auditory conditions, visual distractions, and safety factors.
Spaces dedicated to specific purposes will include an expanded medical suite; a multipurpose room and a technology-supported fitness room, both equipped for PE; a literacy suite for reading intervention; and rooms for speech, occupational, physical, and behavior therapy. There will also be a number of small instruction areas, plus offices for psychologists, social workers, coaches and others whose services require confidentiality. Finally, the proposed West Elementary will feature a staffed Family Resource Center to help connect families with resources in the school and community.
The enlarged and appropriately outfitted facility will reduce the inordinate amount of time that administrators must now devote each day to juggling the schedule and room assignments for itinerant support staff and special activities. As proposed, the new school will also have enhanced security features such as electronic door monitoring and door locks.
By physically co-locating the PreK program and the West K-5 facility, the transition of preschool BRIDGE students to West will be smoother and more effective. Staff from both programs, especially teachers and therapists, will have opportunities to confer with each other and observe each other’s classrooms to ensure that each student entering West is provided with the necessary supports from day one. The provision of instruction and related services for these children with extensive needs can become seamless from preschool to elementary school. In addition, the delivery of services by itinerant staff will be made more efficient by the programs’ physical proximity.
- How will a new special education preschool wing improve the program and services that are offered to the PreK students?
The proposed special education preschool wing will include spaces and features specifically designed to address the special needs of this preschool population. The spaces/features include a sensory-friendly adaptive PE room; a sensory therapy room, an occupational therapy room, and a physical therapy room—all with equipment that is size-appropriate for preschoolers; and a nurse’s clinic with accessible bathroom. On two levels as opposed to the current Shawsheen’s five levels, the proposed facility will facilitate faster and safer movement of students among the special service areas.
The preschool will have its own entrance off the parking lot. The preschool wing will also include a parents’ waiting room and therapy space to serve the 40-50 preschool students who receive only speech and language therapy and only by appointment.
Shawsheen Preschool, built in 1923, has a substantial number of students in the PreK BRIDGE program who move into West’s BRIDGE program and other special education programs at kindergarten age. Connecting the PreK program to the West Elementary facility will provide a consistent and supportive environment over a period of several years and limit disruption for this particular group of students when they transition to the elementary program. It will also enable efficiency in special education service delivery among staff who can serve students PreK to grade 5.
- If approved, what will the new West Elementary look like?
Several designs have been considered. The preferred solution will be submitted to the MSBA in August 2020. This design has three stories, with approximately 204,903 square feet. The building will be centrally located on the site behind the current building. The site includes 300 parking spaces and three age-appropriate play areas plus field areas in the front of the building where the current structure stands. The wetlands area behind the school will serve as an environmental education site for students. The co-joined preschool wing will have two stories.
- Where will the new West Elementary be located?
The current school site encompasses 11.8 acres of developed and wooded land. The new school will be located within the same property as the existing facility; however, the footprint of the new school will be larger. To enable construction to take place while school is in session, the new facility will largely be set behind the position of the current school.
Participation in the MSBA grant program for school building construction requires a thorough examination of potential site options throughout the town. The site that was chosen was identified as part of the Feasibility Study phase of the project.
- Have any issues been sticking points in our negotiations with MSBA?
Two items in our proposal have been the subject of multiple conversations and negotiations: the flexitorium and the mechanical penthouse.
The current West Elementary School has a traditional-style auditorium with a stage and rows of fixed seats on a sloped floor. MSBA does not approve/fund auditoriums for elementary schools and instead recommended that West have a standard elementary cafetorium, which allows a cafeteria to adjoin the physical education space to be combined into one large space when needed. West’s stakeholders disagree with this approach; they believe that a cafetorium concept provides only limited access to the PE/assembly space for instructional needs since substantial time is taken up each day with serving lunch as well as the set-up, cleaning, and take-down of furniture. In addition, the cafetorium’s movable wall allows noise to penetrate from the cafeteria, which greatly interferes with students’ ability to hear their PE teacher’s directions or to hear presenters during an assembly. Because the current auditorium has been deeply integrated into the instructional program at West, the administration, staff and parents at West proposed a 6,000 square foot flexitorium instead of a cafetorium. The flexitorium is a large room with fixed walls where lunch would not interfere with instructional activities. The flexitorium could be used for many flexible purposes throughout the instructional day/year, such as performing arts classes, multi-class demonstrations by guest presenters, exhibits of science projects and visual art displays, grade level projects and activities, and capstone presentations. MSBA has indicated that it will not reimburse for any portion of a flexitorium. The projected cost of the flexitorium is $6 million, which would be funded fully by Andover taxpayers. Further discussions are needed with West faculty, district administration, town administration, and residents.
The proposed plan for a new West Elementary included a mechanical penthouse, in which the school’s mechanical equipment is enclosed in a room on top of the school. MSBA had previously approved this architectural best practice at Woodhill/High Plain and at Bancroft. The district/town proposed paying for this enclosure because it offers enhanced efficiency, longevity, and ease of maintenance. The MSBA now requires that the equipment at West must be left on the roof exposed to the elements. If it is enclosed, the district/town must not only pay for the enclosure but must also subtract 8400 square feet from the allowable space for the school. The district/town have requested reconsideration by the MSBA. To ensure that the project continues to move forward without delay, the Building Committee has removed the mechanical penthouse from the plan unless/until the MSBA changes this requirement.
- What will happen to the existing West El facility?
As proposed, the existing West facility will be demolished in two stages. In stage one, prior to construction, the existing 1969 classroom wing will be demolished to allow space for the new building’s footprint. As a result, ten temporary modular classrooms will be placed elsewhere on the site during the construction process. In stage two, once construction is finished, the modular classrooms will be removed and the remainder of the existing building will be demolished, making way for the rest of the site work, which will include sports fields, play structures, the driveway, parking area, and landscaping.
- What will happen to the existing Shawsheen facility if its students are moved to the West Elementary site?
Ownership and management of the aging Shawsheen building and the site would revert to the Town of Andover. The school’s long history has contributed to the building’s being viewed as a beloved town building and landmark. An architect for historic properties concluded that the building is sound and could be repurposed. Possible suggested uses include senior housing, offices, small condos, town document storage or other community purposes.
- How will the construction process affect students’ learning environment?
The new facility will be built behind the existing building. Therefore, the construction process may limit the use of the fields and playgrounds that are currently in that same location. However, construction should not be disruptive to the operation of the school, with the exception of the ten classes that will need to temporarily relocate to modulars.
It is likely that the construction process will be of great interest to the students, and some concepts will be incorporated into the curriculum where appropriate. One or two members of the engineering/design team may be invited to explain the project to students in grades 4 and 5 and to answer their questions. Watching the new school rise from the earth may spark some students’ interest in exploring engineering careers. Other students may find fertile ground for authentic learning projects or topics for capstone projects.
- What will be the impact on the staff of the current West and Shawsheen facilities?
The new building will be erected largely independent of either West or Shawsheen, thereby minimizing the impact on staff during construction, with the exception of the ten classrooms that need to temporarily relocate to modulars. Staff from the current West and Shawsheen schools will shift to the new/renovated building in their current capacities. More personnel will be added to serve West’s student population as the enrollment rises.
- What is the timeline for the project?
(Projected dates are in italics)
DATE PROCESS April 2017 Submitted Statement of Interest to MSBA December 2017 MSBA extended invitation to enter Eligibility phase May 2018
Andover Town Meeting approved funding for West Elementary
Feasibility Study to investigate multiple facility options for West
May 2018 Formed West Elementary School Building Committee July 2018 Submitted Educational Profile Questionnaire December 2018 MSBA extended invitation to enter Feasibility Study phase February 2019 Selected Owner’s Project Manager--PMA May 2019 MSBA approved selection of Owner’s Project Manager October 2019 Selected Designer/Architect—SMMA December 2019 Conducted visioning sessions with teachers, staff, parents, and community March 2020 Submitted Preliminary Design Program & Educational Program Description April 2020 Submitted responses to MSBA’s comments about the Preliminary
Design Program & Educational Program Description
May 2020 Submitted Preferred Schematic Report August 5, 2020 Facilities Assessment Subcommittee meeting August 2020 MSBA Board of Directors Meeting August 2020 Enter Schematic Design Period Spring 2021 MSBA Board Meeting to approve Budget & Scope Spring 2021 Secure local funding authorization (Town Meeting and ballot vote) May 2021 Enter Design Development Period July 2021 Project Funding Agreement August 2021 Construction Documents August 2021 Site Preparation & Temporary Parking, Construction Begins March 2022 Project out to Bid March 2022 Move classes into ten modulars May 2022 Installation of Modular Classrooms May 2020 Construction of new West Elementary begins August 2022 Demolish classroom wing of existing building December 2024 Move into new school Fall 2025 Demolition of old school & final sitework
- How much will this project cost?
Ultimately, the Andover community will need to decide the level of financial investment that should be made to improve school facilities. The West Elementary School Building Committee has a goal of gaining community feedback and adjusting potential options to meet community expectations. Cost estimates are based on current construction prices and assume that construction will begin in 2022. The project budget will be established upon completion of the Schematic Design phase of the project. Current projections are in the range of ± $155.5 million, which includes architectural and engineering design fees, construction, and furniture, fixtures, and equipment.
- How will this project be funded?
The project will be jointly funded by the MSBA and the Town of Andover. The Town’s base reimbursement rate for this project has been estimated by the MSBA to be in the range of 40 to 42 percent. The higher figure includes an incentive for a plan that incorporates energy efficiency and preventive maintenance. The final rate will be determined later in the process. However, because MSBA utilizes a set cost per square foot and only reimburses for spaces it has approved, the actual reimbursement rate is likely to be in the range of 25 to 30 percent.
With Bancroft, for example, the final construction cost was $49.5M; MSBA accepted $36M as eligible project costs and then reimbursed $15.8M. Thus, although we were approved for a reimbursement rate of 43.9 percent for Bancroft, the actual reimbursement rate was 31.9 percent.
MSBA makes several adjustments that affect the bottom-line reimbursement rate. For example, the estimated cost to build West Elementary is $599 per square foot, but MSBA will reimburse us at a rate of only about $350 per square foot. The town will also be required to fund any design elements that MSBA deems ineligible for reimbursement.
- How does the town pay for facility construction projects?
In general, significant facility projects are funded by the town through a debt exclusion. In this process, voters give the town permission to borrow money outside the limitations of Massachusetts Proposition 2½, and taxes are increased to pay back the loan during the term of repayment (usually 30 years). The town would ask voters for this approval in two separate forums, first at Town Meeting and then by holding a ballot box vote. Both votes would need to pass in order to approve the debt exclusion.
- What is a debt exclusion?
A debt exclusion is a funding mechanism in which voters allow an increase in taxes only to pay back specific project debt over the duration of a loan. A debt exclusion is not the same as an override. An override allows an increase in taxes that will be ongoing and used for operating costs. Historically, Andover has passed debt exclusions for facility projects. Andover has never passed an override.
- What is the potential impact of this school project on my real estate taxes?
The current estimated cost of the project is $155.5 million. However, over the coming months and through the Schematic Design process, adjustments will be made. The final projection will be refined before going to Town Meeting.
While the specific project cost is still unknown, we can estimate the impact to the average tax bill using various cost levels and other assumptions. If voters approve a debt exclusion, new debt could be taken on by the town and loans would be paid over many years by an increase in property taxes over the life of the loan. At the same time, existing exempt debt (financing High Plain, Wood Hill and Bancroft school construction, for example) is being paid off, with a notable drop to come in the year 2022. Estimates show that the FY18 average tax bill was about $9,600 , of which $270 was applied to existing exempt debt.
Total exempt debt—existing plus that from any new projects approved by voters—will have a bearing on the town’s repayment schedule and, therefore, on residential taxes in any given year.
The Town has put together preliminary debt scenarios based on various assumptions about construction project costs, interest rates and loan terms. These estimates show that for every $10,000,000 of debt incurred, we can expect an average tax bill impact of between $39.00 and $47.80 in the first year of loan repayment. The annual cost to taxpayers would gradually decrease after the first year as interest payments on the debt decrease and as existing debt for other town projects expires.
- What happens if Town Meeting does not approve the funds necessary for Andover’s portion of the costs?
MSBA would no longer support the project. The building project would be halted.
- What happens if the town voters do not pass the requested debt exclusion?
MSBA will would no longer support the project. The building project would stop.
- Why is the cost of this project so much more than when we built Bancroft?
Inflation is a significant contributing factor to the difference in cost between the two schools. Though Bancroft was completed in 2014, it was bid in October 2011 with a construction cost of $308 per square foot. Inflation in the construction industry has averaged about four to five percent a year. About ten years will separate the bids for Bancroft and the likely bids for the new West Elementary. At the time West Elementary goes to bid in 2021, the estimated cost will be $599 per square foot. The budgeted construction cost of Bancroft was $49,550,000. If built at the cost of current construction, Bancroft would cost $95 million to construct today.
Another part of the additional cost is due to the larger size of the building proposed for West. Bancroft was originally constructed to accommodate 640 students in grades K-5, although space has now been allocated for a new districtwide special education program reducing building capacity. Its current enrollment is 567 and its footprint is about 105,000 square feet. West Elementary is being planned for a K-5 enrollment of up to 925 students. Including the preschool wing, the new West Elementary will have twice the square footage of Bancroft.
A third factor is the variety of spaces being proposed to serve West’s students with special needs. West provides the district’s BRIDGE program for students on the autism spectrum. These students are served in essentially self-contained classrooms, with an assistant assigned to each student. West also offers the partial inclusion SAIL program for students with developmental delays in multiple areas of functioning. Finally, West serves the district’s elementary-age students who are medically fragile. All of these student groups receive a variety of related services (such as physical, occupational, and speech therapy), which require pull-out spaces for individual or small-group instruction.
The fourth factor in the cost is the inclusion of the PreK wing (to replace the Shawsheen Preschool), which Bancroft does not have. Shawsheen has about 39,460 gross square feet, but some of this space is not suitable for use by its current students. The PreK wing joined to West Elementary will have about 31,899 gross square feet. The estimated construction cost of the preschool wing is $19.1 million. In general, MSBA does not provide financial support for construction of preschools. However, when the preschool is connected to another building (as this plan proposes) and when there is continuity of programming for students (as this plan specifies), MSBA will apply its reimbursement rate to the building structure itself—but will not pay for furnishings, fixtures, or equipment. From that perspective, this plan to join the preschool to the new West Elementary provides a significant financial benefit to Andover.
The final factor is the proposed flexitorium (see FAQ #21), which has an estimated cost of $6 million.
Some of the expense of a new building will be offset by the reduced annual cost of maintaining and repairing two aging facilities and by consolidating two facilities onto one site. If some of the students with special needs who are currently served in out-of-district programs decide to return to the new West Elementary, the district will also have lower costs for out-of-district placements.
- What is Andover’s track record for past school construction being on or under budget?
The most recent construction project—the all-new Bancroft Elementary School—was completed on schedule and under budget. The budget for Bancroft was $49,550,000. The final cost of the project was $49,009,860. Wood Hill Middle School and High Plain Elementary School were all-new construction; both were completed on time and on budget. Each of these projects was managed by a separate School Building Committee; however, for all three schools the architect was SMMA, who is also the architect for the proposed West Elementary school.
- I have no children who attend Andover Public Schools. How will this project benefit me and the community?
The quality of education in a community has a direct impact on the attractiveness of the community to homebuyers and, as a result, on the property value of homes. Maintenance of school facilities is a valuable investment that provides a return to everyone in the community. To maintain the high quality of performance that Andover has achieved and to sustain the attractiveness of its buildings in comparison to surrounding communities, it is essential that Andover’s school facilities provide sufficient space for current educational programming as well as physical conditions that support high-quality learning.
- Doesn’t Andover also need a new high school?
Yes, the Andover High School Facility Study Committee was formed in January 2017 and conducted a preliminary feasibility study with the architecture firm HMFH. At the recommendation of the Study Committee, a Statement of Interest was submitted to the MSBA in April 2018; it was turned down in December 2018. The SOI was revised to address some of the concerns of the MSBA and resubmitted in April 2019; it was turned down in December 2019. It was revised once more to address other issues raised by the MSBA and was submitted in April 2020. A response from the MSBA is anticipated by early 2021. At that time, a decision will be made as to next steps with regard to the high school.
- Who are the project contractors?
- The Owner’s Project Manager is PMA Consultants, LLC [Braintree, MA].
- The project Architect/Designer is SMMA (Symmes Maini & McKee Associates) [Cambridge, MA].
- A visioning process was led by New Vista Design [Boston, MA].
- Who serves on the West Elementary School Building Committee?
Chairperson, Professor, Massachusetts School of Law
Sheldon Berman Superintendent Andrew Flanagan Town Manager Susan McCready School Committee Vice-Chairperson Tracey Spruce School Committee Member Janet Nicosia Director of Facilities Steve Nembirkow APS Chief Operations Officer Donna Walsh Town Finance Director Jennifer Hunt Member, West Elementary Principal Elizabeth Roos Member, former West Elementary Principal Heather Eigen Member, APS Program Head for Intensive Programs Paul Rollins Member, Town Resident, Construction Project Executive Siggy Pfendler Member, Town Resident, Construction Director of Improvement & Innovation Armata Kirpalani
Member, Town Resident, Independent Design Consultant
Rick Almeida Member, Town Resident, Architect (focus: K-12 public schools) Mark Johnson Member, Town Resident, Real Estate Attorney, Chair of AHS Facility Study Committee, Chair of Bancroft Elementary School Building Committee
- How can I stay informed?
Up-to-date information is posted on the West Elementary School Building Committee website.
This site also has an abundance of archived information, such as the minutes of past School Building Committee meetings and reports from the various consultants.
Meetings of the School Building Committee are livestreamed and archived on Andover TV and may be watched on Comcast 99 and Verizon 43.
Parents and guardians of current Shawsheen and West Elementary students will receive project updates on the district’s website and via email from the District.
- How can I become involved?
You can get involved by attending a meeting of the West Elementary School Building Committee (SBC). Meetings are open to the public and notifications are posted to the Town of Andover and Andover Public Schools websites.
Next Steps: It is still too early to respond to some questions, such as those pertaining to the possible construction process. However, to ensure that we don’t lose track of your concerns, we will gradually add those questions to the list below and will answer them at the appropriate time as the hoped-for building process unfolds. You are invited to submit your questions to: Paula Colby-Clements.