Andover Townsman, Andover, MA

December 12, 2013

School redistricting delayed until fall of 2015

By Dustin Luca
dluca@andovertownsman.com

---- — Plans to redistrict the town’s elementary school community have been put on hold for a year.

The School Committee voted unanimously last week to delay the redistricting until fall 2015.

The vote buys one more year of life for Shawsheen School, a choice elementary school said to be closing in the future due to its age and condition.

The decision, in part, grew out of unknown variables with the construction of the new, expanded Bancroft Elementary School.

Officials have said once the new school — which will increase student enrollment at Bancroft from around 500 students to 680 at full capacity — goes on line, the town’s elementary schools will undergo a redistricting process to realign student populations.

Tom Deso, chairman of the School Building Committee, said the second phase of the $50 million Bancroft project is well on track for being done by the May 22 contract deadline, with the potential for completion as early as April school vacation week, which is set for April 21 through 25.

For the last few months, officials have been considering that if the new Bancroft is completed before April vacation, students and staff could move into their new home when they return from the spring break,

But there are too many unknowns, including potential weather delays, to guarantee that, Deso said. And without a guarantee, officials decided to hold off on any decision on redistricting.

Delaying redistricting will mean enrollment at Bancroft Elementary School will remain at its original capacity temporarily.

“The April scenario is very enticing, and we’re working very hard to get there,” Deso said. “But we can’t guarantee we’re going to get there.”

Deso said the project is currently operating under two scenarios.

Should the new Bancroft be ready to open in April, students would return from spring break to their new classrooms. Preparations for demolition of the existing Bancroft would start in May, but no work would be done on the site until after the school year ends. Final planting and landscaping would occur in the fall.

Should the new school not be ready for occupancy until September, students would remain as is through the end of the school year. Landscaping of the new site would begin in May. Demolition of the old building would still occur over the summer, with final paving, line painting and more occurring in the fall.

“In either scenario, we’re still going to be working on the site” into the fall, Deso said. “It’s a question of the degree of work. It’s going to be the same duration.”

School Building Committee meetings with public safety officials, including the Police Department, have supported opening the school early so long as the building is ready, Deso added.

Bancroft Elementary School Principal Malcolm Forsman said he favored the April move-in date because “it gives us a chance to move in with our current population, a known population, with the same group of parents.”

“There’s a level of knowledge of the site and what we’re trying to do,” Forsman said. “If we move in April, we have that core of people already there to make it a smooth transition.”

However, School Committee Chairman Dennis Forgue cautioned against relying on the April move-in date.

“The April scenario is built on the premise that everything goes well over the next (several) months,” he said. It’s “a considerable period of time we’re hoping everything goes better than we’re contractually obligated.”