Andover residents got their first look at the West Elementary and Shawsheen preschool project when the Building Committee recently gave a public presentation of the initial designs.
"There's a lot happening and we are looking for input right now," said Paula Colby Clements, chair of the West Elementary School Building Committee. "We want everyone going into Town Meeting with their questions answered."
The district is seeking feedback on the project as design work continues. In the coming weeks, the project's architectural firm — Cambridge-based SMMA — will host a "sustainable design charette" to gather input from the community about the school's goals, architect Matthew Royce said.
More information about the project can be found at andoverma.gov/747/West-Elementary-School-Building-Committee.
The West Elementary School project is in the design phase where the Building Committee, architects and consultants plan the physical layout of the school. Residents will have multiple opportunities to give their input before voting on the estimated $148 million project at Town Meeting in May.
The plan brings combines a new three-story West Elementary School and a two-story wing for Shawsheen preschool students, according to plans presented at an Oct. 3 meeting. The project began simply as a way to replace West Elementary with a bigger school, but grew to include students from the Shawsheen preschool as well. To build the project, the town will get an estimated $34 million from the Massachusetts School Building Authority, and the remaining $114 will have to be paid by Andover, Town Manager Andrew Flanagan said.
If approved, the project will be completed in fall 2025, said Brian DeFilippis of the PMA Consultants firm.
The building focuses on creating a "collaborative working space," Clements said, adding that architects designed a "flexible and nimble" environment where classrooms can easily transition to spaces allowing work by larger groups of students.
"Our educational plan provides students with a sense of community, belonging and acceptance through small school neighborhoods, common learning spaces and gathering areas in classrooms," said Principal Jennifer Hunt, describing the new work spaces.
The project will also have enough space overall to accommodate the growing number of students in the school district, Clements said. That number is expected to continue growing because younger families will likely move into the area as older residents sell their homes.
The current West Elementary School is almost at 100% capacity, Clements said. Projections say that in 2025 the school would be 33% beyond its capacity if the town did not erect a new building. Projections also show an overall increase of students in coming years will push Andover's elementary population to 11% over the capacity of the town's current schools, Clements said.
"Our position is we should build now for that capacity," she said.
While building a school with the growing student population in mind, the district can plan for larger cafeterias and gymnasiums, she said.
"All of those things you can't fix once the school is built," Clements said. "You have to get the capacity right at the onset."
The new project is designed to house 925 students in kindergarten through fifth grade, plus 130 preschool students. Creating space for so many students in the new building will decrease the number of children in other Andover schools, Clements said. That will allow the district to better balance the number of students from school to school, she said.
"Every elementary school will benefit from this when we rebalance the load of students to create more equitable classrooms," she said.