By Bill Kirk
---- — Proponents of a new Andover Youth Center say they can see the light at the end of the tunnel. And for once, it’s not an oncoming train.
The Youth Center Building Committee got an update on the plans and went over the timeline for the project last week. As the Thursday morning meeting closed, members decided to take a walk and check out the ground that will soon support the long-awaited facility.
Committee Chairman Chris Huntress said that as soon as the contractor working on the Doherty Middle School wraps up a paving project next month, construction can begin on the 21,000-square-foot youth center.
The project is set to go out to bid Aug. 26. Bids will be accepted until Sept. 6, with the final decision on a contractor being made by Sept. 23.
Construction is scheduled to start Oct. 7. Twelve months later, Huntress said, the doors should open to the new facility.
The building was recently approved by the town’s Design Review Board. Financially, the $5.4 million project is on target, and is within the 13 percent contingency.
Huntress said that although a ground-breaking will be celebrated on Oct. 7, in at least two ways ground has already been broken. He said the contractor working on the Doherty Middle School brought utilities in from Bartlet Street to within about 10 feet of the youth center site.
In addition, the ground where the center is to be built will be prepped and ready for construction by October. “When we hire a contractor, they will have structural soil underneath,” he said.
The Youth Foundation paid $458,700 to the town to have that work done in an effort to give the eventual for the center a head start.
Committee member Bill Perkins said the project has been a partnership between the town, the School Department, the Center at Punchard/senior center and Andover Youth Services.
“Everybody’s been working together,” he said.
For example, Perkins said he was concerned that the road going around Doherty School would be too narrow for parents coming to pick up their children from the youth center. The design was changed slightly to widen it so it could be used as a two-way road if needed.
Further, he said, the building is “pre-engineered. It’s paneled so it goes up very quickly.”
Huntress touted the building’s design, saying it would have a “see-through lobby.” Visitors entering the front door will be able to look through the lobby out onto the football field and track, which will be just 8 feet from the foundation of the building.
There will also be a terrace at the back of the building where people the public can sit and enjoy the outdoors.
Bill Fahey, the director of Andover Youth Services, said it will be a “very unique” building catering to the needs of the entire community.
He said when he asked kids in town what kind of building they felt most comfortable in, many of them said “ski lodge.”
As a result, while the exterior of the building may look like a typical municipal structure, the interior will feel warm and comfortable while also being practical and usable.
“It will be traditional on the outside but inside, we’ll make it nice,” he said, noting that some of the furniture and decorative items that would have been thrown out at the refurbished Bancroft School are being recycled for use at the new youth center.
Fahey said he is also working with Don Robb of the Council on Aging to come up with programs that include both young and older people alike.
He said seniors will have use of the building from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m., with teens and young people occupying it in the afternoon and evening hours.
“We are finding that young people and seniors are dealing with many of the same issues,” he said. “They have free time, lack of discretionary income, losses in their lives. There are a lot of similarities.”
Tomorrow, Friday, Aug. 16, Fahey working with the senior center staff has planned an intergenerational kayaking trip for the town’s older and younger residents, either on Pomps Pond or the Shawsheen River.
“Seniors can do whatever they put their minds to,” he said. “There is a very powerful relationship between seniors and youth. Seniors can teach the young people and young people can teach the seniors.”
“This won’t be a place where kids are just hanging out,” he said. “They will be doing stuff and creating stuff.”
Perkins, standing next to a pile of crushed stone, said the community will be happy about the final outcome.
“After all this time, the town will find it’s been worth the wait,” he said.
Some notable features of the new youth center:
The building will have a 1,000-square-foot shop where kids can work on art projects such as sculptures or wooden kayaks.
A multipurpose room will have a moveable stage with built-in lighting and sound system as well as good acoustics for performances.
A full kitchen will be available for hot meals and will also serve as a culinary center where kids can hone their cooking skills.
The gym will be 8,900 square feet, making it the second largest gym in Andover after the field house at Andover High School, and will be large enough so that it can be split in half with a curtain to allow for two activities to occur simultaneously.
A cardio-fitness room can double as a dance studio or place for Zumba and other fitness classes.
Classroom space will be available for tutoring as well as computer courses.
A TV-music studio will allow all ages to make music videos or produce TV shows. Bands will also be able to record their own CDs.