The town manager expects a decision from the state any day that might eliminate more than $1 million from the cost of building a youth center.

The private Andover Youth Foundation is raising the money to build a 28,000-square-foot youth center behind the Doherty Middle School. It says that if it can forgo paying workers state-set prevailing wages, it would save up to 25 percent of the cost.

While the town and the foundation negotiate a contract, the town has sent a letter to the state Attorney General's office looking for an opinion on this issue. The state Department of Labor requires prevailing wage | a higher amount than is generally paid in the private sector | on any public projects.

"We're a private organization," AYF president Peg Campbell said. "Private organizations don't have the same rules public ones do. We don't want to put any extra strain on donors."

The youth center project would be funded completely by private gifts but will be built on public land and handed over to the town once finished. Town Meeting approved the project in April.

The foundation has raised about $3 million in donations and pledges so far.

The state said in 2000 that it was OK to forego paying prevailing wage, back when the town and foundation were negotiating a contract to put a youth center behind the West Andover Fire Station.

"We're really looking for the state to reconfirm what they said in 2000," Town Manager Reginald "Buzz" Stapczynski said. "This is the same project, just different dimensions."

Town officials, however, have talked about making improvements to the area around the youth center, such as putting in sidewalks. Stapczynski said there's a chance the state could see that as affecting the project's private designation.

"Everyone would like to see the costs down, but from my understanding, it will be dictated to us from the state," Selectman Gerald "Jerry" Stabile said. "Everyone is committed to getting it done."

Selectmen are looking at waiving construction-related permit fees for the project, which could save fundraisers another $80,000.

| Crystal Bozek

Hail to the 'chief'

One former fire chief flew all the way from Florida and another drove down from Bar Harbor, Maine, disrupting vacations.

The ex-chiefs knew they couldn't miss a chance to honor the one woman who told them what to do as much as anyone else, the woman they always called "the real chief" | Elizabeth Kochakian.

If they had missed her retirement party, they never would have heard the end of it.

"Liz, she is the chief. She told us what we needed to do," said Charles Murnane, who retired as fire chief in January and is staying in Florida. "We had a lot of fun together."

Kochakian, an Andover resident, is retiring in two weeks after working as executive secretary to five fire chiefs since 1978. She was the department's first secretary. Before she came along, deputy chiefs did all the paperwork.

While Murnane swears he is her favorite chief of the bunch, Kochakian said "They all had something to remember them by in a good way."

Former Chief William T. Downs recruited her for the job after watching her take minutes at a selectmen's meeting.

"My mother-in-law tells me this fire chief from Andover called, and he says he wants to hire you," Kochakian recalled. "I wasn't sure."

But Downs wasn't one to give up easily.

"She had to be persuaded," said Downs, who drove 250 miles from Maine to be at the party. "We ended up getting along very well. I don't know how she put up with the rest of the chiefs though."

While Fire Chief Michael Mansfield took the job only in January, he said he already knows he will be at a loss without Kochakian in the front office.

"She's done an excellent job making sure we chiefs know what we're supposed to be doing," Mansfield said. "She has this unbelievable amount of historic data in that head of hers that she can pull out at any time."

It's not just Fire Department information. Kochakian has been writing up minutes for the Board of Selectmen for close to 30 years. Town Manager Buzz Stapczynski said Kochakian has probably been through seven town managers and 25 to 30 selectmen since she started.

Kochakian said retirement should give her more time with her four grandchildren.

The town has filled her position with the Fire Department but has yet to fill the post of selectmen's secretary.

| Crystal Bozek

Can work show Rock Island is diamond in the rough?

A handful of volunteers last weekend helped move Rock Island another step closer to being a place people want to visit.

Though the town demolished an abandoned house on the two-acre island on Fosters Pond several years ago, portions of the frame and foundation remained. Even after three metal trash bins worth of debris was removed in the fall of 2005, the site remained a dilapidated mess.

The island has received attention this year because a group of Andover High School students filmed a version of the television hit "Survivor" on it. The Conservation Commission welcomes more use of the island.

To clean it once and for all, Fosters Pond Road resident David Adilman and four others disassembled the house's frame and floor on Sunday, stacking up the remnants. Remaining debris will be removed from the island this fall, probably using rowboats, as was done in 2005.

"Three Dumpster loads were pulled out the first time. It's a lot of work. But the more people you have, the quicker it goes," Adilman said.

He said he hopes a similar volunteer group will get together in September or October to haul off what he and the four others disassembled over the weekend.

"It's not off the island yet, but the heavy lifting's done," said new Conservation Commission member Al French, who volunteered his time with Adilman over the weekend. "The guys who did the heavy lifting were there for three hours."

French said the town purchased Rock Island about a decade ago, after a bank acquired the property after the former occupants of the house had left. There are still signs that people have lived there, he said, including old parts to a wood stove, a nearby junk pile, even a 1930s newspaper he found under a floor board.

"There's a number of stories. My understanding was it was used as a hunting cabin. It may have been used as an inn," Adilman said. "At Halloween it's a favorite jaunt. It's on an island; it's an old house. You do the math."

French said that with the debris removed, he hopes Rock Island becomes more of a year-round destination.

| Brian Messenger

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