Andover Townsman, Andover, MA

January 2, 2014

Phillips eyes $11M wellness center

Academy aims to break ground on campus this fall

By Bill Kirk
bkirk@andovertownsman.com

---- — Phillips Academy, in the midst of a $50 million renovation and rejuvenation effort, is proposing to add another building to its sprawling, hilltop campus with the pending construction of an $11 million medical center.

The Rebecca M. Sykes Wellness Center, named for the boarding school’s former associate head of school, will bring mental and physical health services together into one building, while also providing space for health and wellness classes such as yoga, school officials said.

The 17,000-square-foot, two-story center will be located at 15 Salem St. adjacent to Bullfinch Hall, according to Larry Muench, director of facilities at Phillips.

The project, which honors Sykes who left Phillips last summer following 40 years of service to become president of the Oprah Winfrey Charitable Foundation, will be paid for through fundraising, with the school already securing $6.5 million in commitments, Muench said. Ground-breaking is planned for this September.

“We are trying to bring 21st century care to Phillips students, faculty and staff,” said Amy Patel, the new medical director at Phillips.

The project will unite medical and mental heath services, now located in opposite corners of campus, in a central location, stressing to students the importance of the mind-body connection to health and well-being, she said.

“We will bring everything under one roof, which brings us in line with the evolving model of health care,” Patel said. “It’s more of a proactive approach. Part of what we’ll be doing is educating, to help students recognize the signs and symptoms of illness.

“There are inherent stresses of being teenagers, especially at a school like Phillips. But the effects can be mitigated. We will teach proactive ways of dealing with stress, such as nutrition, sleep, mindfulness and wellness. It will be a holistic approach in terms of a whole body approach to wellness and illness.”

The medical center will be the first new building constructed on the campus since the Gelb Science Center went up in 2004.

School officials are currently going through the town approval process. As a nonprofit educational entity, Phillips is seeking a waiver from the town’s application fee of 25 cents per square foot of proposed space, or about $4,200. The request has raised the eyebrows of several Planning Board members who have questioned whether other schools have received similar waivers for construction projects in the past.

“We are requesting a waiver per the educational use category of the new building,” Muench said in an email. “Merrimack College, local schools, churches and other such institutions request similar waivers from the Planning Board.”

Meanwhile, Planning Board members last month discussed a 12-month demolition delay instituted in May 2013 for the Merrill House, which is located on the proposed medical center site.

According to Muench, the Andover Preservation Commission considers the existing residence historically significant and voted unanimously to enact the demolition delay law.

“The commission planned on exploring if anyone was interested in purchasing and moving the house, and we would entertain a discussion with any interested parties,” he said. “To date, we have not been contacted by anyone and have not assigned a sale price.”

Muench added that moving a house is a “difficult and lengthy process, requiring an experienced firm to evaluate the logistics of the current site and the proposed final location.” Permits from Andover Inspectional Services would be required and numerous utility lines would need to be dropped in coordination with the power company and affected property owners, he said.

In addition to bringing modern health care to the campus, plans for the new medical center call for sustainability features, including a green roof and geothermal heating and cooling systems. Muench said the flat roof will have plants on it that help cut heating and cooling costs while also reducing runoff.

In addition, a series of 500-foot deep, 1-foot wide wells will be placed around the perimeter of the building, drawing cooling temperatures to the interior of the structure in the summer and warmer temperatures in the winter.

The geothermal system is predicted to cut energy costs by 20 to 25 percent, he said.

“This will be our third green roof on campus,” he said. “But this is our first foray into geothermal.”

The Planning Board is scheduled to continue its site plan review process for the project during a public hearing on Jan. 14 at 7:30 p.m.

The medical center is part of an ongoing, multi-million-dollar renovation effort on campus, Muench said.

Over the past year, the school has completed about $50 million in improvements, mostly in dormitory renovations, but also to the athletic center, where the locker rooms have been updated. The school has installed sprinklers in the dorms and has upgraded an antiquated underground steam system that services buildings all over campus.

In a related matter, Phillips is seeking to restructure another $50 million or so in debt, Muench said.

According to a letter from MassDevelopment, a state financing agency, the board of trustees of Phillips Academy has applied for $103 million in taxable and tax-exempt bonds to finance work on campus. The letter was sent to the Board of Selectmen in early November as a courtesy in case the work conflicts with any local or regional comprehensive planning.

The document states that the projects encompass both completed and upcoming work as part of the school’s ongoing maintenance, Muench said. The list includes replacement of a track, athletic field improvements, installation of campus-wide software and electronic security systems, and improvements and renovations to various classroom and administrative buildings.

The financing, which includes $56.2 million in tax-exempt bonds and another $33.8 million in taxable bonds, will help pay for future projects such as pedestrian safety upgrades, repaving of a campus roadway and infrastructure renovations.

Going through MassDevelopment insures nonprofit educational institutions like Phillips the lowest possible interest rates for eligible projects.