Andover Townsman, Andover, MA

October 4, 2012

Increased costs, lawsuit have altered school plan some

By Neil Fater
The Andover Townsman

---- — The plan for the new Bancroft Elementary School approved at Town Meeting has seen more than $1.4 million in changes, and the loss of two playing fields. Officials expect to know within the next two weeks if price fluctuation will have any more effect on the school plan.

A lawsuit by neighbors upset with elements of the project postponed construction by about a year, until a settlement was reached. Town officials say that construction costs rose during the year of delay, leading to an estimated $2 million increase. As part of the settlement, the town agreed to reduce the number of fields on the site from three to one, at least for now.

The loss of the two playing fields means the new building will have less play area than the current building, by about 7,500 square feet, according to Tom Deso, School Building Committee chairman, “and we’ll have 120 more students on the site.”

School Committee member Annie Gilbert said she expects the town will look at putting playing fields on water-department land on the side of the school from the West Knoll-area neighbors who sued. This is land where Bancroft Elementary’s portable classrooms are now.

The town also has spent $50,000 on a retaining wall for the neighbors, $40,000 in legal costs and $200,000 to change architectural drawings.

The School Building Committee found $2 million in possible cuts or ways to do things differently, said Deso. He said town officials have agreed to about $1,450,000 of these changes, and are holding the remaining $550,000 in reserve, until they is sure the cuts are necessary.

The changes already approved include ideas such as seeding the lawn area instead of laying sod, saving $100,000 by buying smaller trees and shrubs than originally planned, and moving some items such as bookcases out of the construction budget and into the furniture and equipment budget that will be spent later in the project. Smaller items include removing $90,000 for new playground equipment and $10,000 for a climbing wall in the gym.

Among the items on the chopping block if more cuts are made is to save $250,000 by using brick rather than natural stone on the exterior of the building.

“We wanted to do [stone] because we thought it would be more in keeping with the surroundings, with the neighborhood,” said Deso.

“That’s the biggest single item,” said Gilbert. “I’d like to see it be stone. We gathered a lot of feedback from the community that they’d like to see that but, ultimately, that’s not going to offset the quality of education.”

About 60 percent of bids on different parts of the school-construction project have come in as of early this week, and Deso said the costs have run about 15 percent higher than estimated. The remaining 40 percent of bids will come in within the next two weeks.

Deso and Gilbert say the town will know how much it needs to cut or alter in the project then.

Andover does have about $2 million remaining in its contingency account. Because this is a new structure, it is expected that the town could use some of this money to avoid cuts or alterations.

“Once we get out of the ground with the building it’s pretty cut and dry. Most of your changes at that point are going to be minor coordination issues that don’t cost a lot, so then you can take more of a risk with how much money you’re going to keep set aside for contingencies,” said Deso.

While the town has altered the project by $1.45 million, Deso said none of the changes affect education or the quality of the building.

“There were a number of items we didn’t take because we thought they would compromise [the plan],” he said.

A planned wind turbine that was to be used to teach green technology has been removed from the project, but the piping and wiring will be included in case that feature can be added later.

“We’re not going to have that teaching element outside the school,” said Deso. “But we’re doing all the work so that it could be put in, in the future.”

The school is considered a green school, and includes some more expensive items meant to allow the school to achieve a LEED silver designation, which would show the school construction focused on proper classroom acoustics, master planning, mold prevention and environmental site assessment, among other factors. Deso said expects rebates from utility company’s to offset the increased costs.

“And the energy savings long term are substantial. We really weren’t looking to cut corners that would have a long-term impact on the project,” said Deso.