Andover Townsman, Andover, MA

January 17, 2013

Bancroft budget gap at $5.7 million

$7 million vote would be needed by Annual Town Meeting date

By Dustin Luca
Staff Writer

---- — The budget gap facing the Bancroft Elementary School project is $5.7 million, but would climb even higher if residents reject the bid to cover it at February Special Town Meeting, say officials.

The School Building Committee finalized the budget shortfall Wednesday, Jan. 9, after Townsman deadline. The project is over budget by $5,714,029, including $4.3 million attributed to construction costs rising while the project was delayed close to a year by a lawsuit, members say.

If residents reject the committee’s proposal, Annual Town Meeting in April will be asked to approve $6,982,029, according to Tom Deso, building committee chairman. The $1.3 million difference accounts for costs brought on by not-yet-awarded contract bids expiring on March 1, which would require new bidding on those items within a more pricey construction climate.

From here, only one question remains: how the town will vote for the project. Officials are consulting with the state’s Department of Revenue to establish how much of the extra money needed might require both a Town Meeting and a separate, ballot-box vote.

The town took a similar debt-exclusion override vote in 2011, because voters needed to raising taxes beyond the Proposition 21/2 tax levy limits to pay for the project.

The DOR allows additional money raised for a project to be done without a debt-exclusion override vote, effectively allowing the prior debt exclusion vote to cover future exempt debt — but only to a certain point, according to Finance Director Donna Walsh.

Around 7 percent of a project cost increase can be covered by a non-contingent vote at Town Meeting due to rising construction costs, Walsh said. The shortfall facing the school, however, far exceeds that.

If Special Town Meeting approves the $5.7 million and a new ballot election is needed, the town would hold it on Feb. 26, Deso said. Contract bids expire on March 1, so a debt exemption vote on Feb. 26 would give the town enough time to award contracts and move forward with the project before old bids expire.

Deso said he feels “very positive” going into Special Town Meeting.

“I think the townspeople will understand the need for this,” Deso said. “The foundation is in. The concrete is in. The steel is going up. The cost of taking the building apart and reclaiming is substantial, and we still have to build a school.”

As part of the existing building’s demolition, the committee must have the structure tested for hazardous chemicals, and a test was run recently to test for mercury at the existing building, according to Deso.

“This is all encapsulated. Nothing is exposed,” he said. “If there are things there, then when the contractors go in to demolish the building, they have to take precautions and do special removal and special disposal to take that into account.”

Test results on the toxic chemical have came back negative since the last School Building Committee meeting, meaning mercury does not need to be removed from the building.