By Dustin Luca
---- — The Board of Selectmen approved two upgrades for the Cormier Family Youth Center this week, but not before concerns of past promises being broken and public pressure to take time on the decisions hit the table.
The decisions — to tap a $125,000 gift account as well as funnel funds for a town heating and cooling center into the project — are only the latest steps in a 20-odd-year quest to build a home for the town’s youth.
While some tension permeated the discussion leading to the votes, selectmen in the end OK’d both measures by 4-1 votes.
First, the board authorized Andover Youth Services Director Bill Fahey to use the $125,000 gift account to support the project.
Fahey initially proposed directing the funds toward widening the center’s proposed gym by 4 feet, but the money could end up going to other parts of the project, according to officials.
The selectmen’s vote was to deem the building project an “appropriate use” of the gift account and “for the use to be determined between the town manager, building committee and Andover Youth Services.”
Some public comment at the meeting focused on the chances of the money going to something other than the gym.
College Circle resident Michael Roli said Fahey “wants the gym bigger. What I’m hearing is, ‘give the money to the committee.’ That’s (Fahey’s) money — not really his money, town’s money. But he has a purpose, to expand the gym — not to give them the money to do whatever they want to do with it.”
Fahey said while he hopes the money will support expanding the gym, he doesn’t have an issue with it funding another part of the project.
But he added, “We have to use it toward the building, this building is for the Town of Andover.”
There was also concern, both from the public and selectmen, about voting on the proposal before all the financial information for the project was available.
The decision was made before a near-final, line-by-line analysis of the project’s costs was released. As of Monday’s meeting, the information wasn’t provided to the Board of Selectmen because the building committee hadn’t seen it yet, according to Chris Huntress, chairman of the Andover Youth Center Building Committee.
Selectman Mary Lyman voted against spending the gift account on the project, saying the missing detail was an important part of the decision.
“I’d like it on record to say I think we’re pushing it ahead,” she said before the vote. “I wish the board would wait for the numbers, look at everything as a whole.”
However, officials said key financial information pertaining to the gym — specifically the cost per square foot — was available, which was what mattered for the vote.
Meanwhile, a portion of money set aside to designate a town building as a heating and cooling center will go to the youth center.
The money, approved at $125,000, will allow the youth center to support a generator currently used by the existing Bancroft Elementary School. The generator will be re-purposed once the new Bancroft School, which requires a larger generator, is finished.
Selectmen Chairman Alex Vispoli was the lone dissenter, citing a prior promise from town officials.
“We had told the community at Town Meeting that there would be no more town money going into the project. This is town money,” he said.
The 4-1 vote allows for up to $35,000 of the $125,000 to go to the youth center. The building committee has already set aside $30,000 in the budget to add a generator for emergency lighting only, which will now cover electrical upgrades to accommodate the Bancroft generator.
Huntress said he does not expect the committee will need anywhere near the $125,000 to incorporate the Bancroft generator into the project.
Following both votes, the Andover Youth Foundation presented Town Manager Reginald “Buzz” Stapczynski a $458,700 check for the youth center’s portion of work around Doherty Middle School this summer.
In May, Annual Town Meeting voters approved a $2.5 million plan to redesign and repave parking and walkway areas around Doherty Middle School.
The $458,700 comes out of the youth center’s overall $5.4 million budget, according to Diane Costagliola, foundation chairwoman.