By Neil Fater
The Andover Townsman
---- — The construction began months ago with a new entrance road. On Tuesday, students were peering through a safety fence to see workers pour concrete footings for the building. But today, Thursday, it will really be official.
With the typical pomp, circumstance and speeches, the new Bancroft Elementary School will have its ground-breaking ceremony.
The event holds greater meaning than is typical because for much of the previous school year a lawsuit by neighbors had stopped the project. If a settlement hadn’t been reached, said Tom Deso, building committee chairman, the case might have been in the courts for two years.
“We had a period of time here for several months where we really wondered, ‘Are we going to get this project done?’” said Deso, who worried that at some point the state might pull its money from the project. “This is a symbolic moment. This is a big moment for the town. This is the culmination of a lot of hard work by a lot of people.
“Now we know we’re going to have a new Bancroft School. Two years from now all the students of Bancroft will be going into a brand new school, and that’s pretty exciting,” he said.
In a morning ceremony today, every student at Bancroft Elementary â€“ wearing little, plastic hard hats â€“ will have a chance to pick up a shovel and turn over some dirt that will be used in the project. They’ll sing the Bancroft song and hear something that they’ve probably never heard before.
“At the end of the ceremony we’re going to ring the Bancroft bell [in the school’s eastern tower] which hasn’t been run in many, many years,” said new Principal Mal Forsman.
The public is invited to a noon ceremony at the construction site, which will include singing by students in the fourth and fifth grade and the official ground-breaking.
Due to the limited parking at the school, all those attending the noon ceremony are asked to park at the Harrison Ice Rink located on the Phillips Academy campus on South Main Street. Shuttles will be available from there to take guests to the construction site, and will return guests to the parking lot following the ceremony, according to the school system.
“We really look at this as a community celebration,” said School Committee member Annie Gilbert, noting the number of people who voted at Town Meeting for the $44 million school, and who offered input at a variety of meetings.
The new building was needed because of structural problems with the existing school. But there are mixed emotions in town about losing the existing school and its whimsical design that reminded children of a castle. It’s open classroom concept led to more noise, but also a different, team teaching approach to education that some people favored.
“There’s no denying [the current school] is a unique building and people have strong emotions about it, one way or the other. It means a lot to a lot of people. I’ve had three children go through the building, so it means a lot to me,” said Gilbert.
But she remembers moving buckets around the media center to catch dripping water when she would volunteer in the school.
“We’re all found of its quirks, but we all acknowledge we need a new structure,” she said. “We’ve worked hard to make another building the community will be equally proud of. We have tried to bring the best of what worked into the new Bancroft as best as we can.”
Recognizing the elementary students’ attachment to their existing school, Forsman indicated that educators also are trying to include students in developments taking place at the construction site. Gilbert said that part of the contract with the architect calls for architects to come into the classrooms and talk about the project.
“It’s a general focus on keeping the children involved in the construction and understanding what’s going on. While it’s going to be difficult to give up this school, we wanted to give them the opportunity to embrace the new school,” said Forsman.
Forsman expects to pose a Question of the Week about the construction and have a piece of construction equipment in the lobby to see if students can guess what it is. Later this month, they will join construction workers to do stand and stretch exercises during safety week.
“The upper grades may talk about electricity. If we have a chance to have in a supervisor in charge of the electricity, there might be a connection,” he said. “The cooperation that’s gone on [with the contractor and the architect] as been impressive. We’re all pulling in the same direction.”
“We’re not done yet. But we are started, and that’s a big thing,” Deso said.