The Board of Selectmen unanimously voted to authorize Superintendent Sheldon Berman to submit a second statement of interest to the Massachusetts School Building Authority for the high school building project, which will either be a renovation or total reconstruction of a new school.

Following the board's vote, Berman said the statement of interest will be submitted on April 11 with some updates and changes.

"We've updated the statement of interest in a significant way," he said. "We have more developments going on in town. We have added, for example, a potential for housing in the town yard area when that's sold. There's a development in Shawsheen Village that is another possibility. All of this looks at adding housing stock."

West Elementary School was accepted into the MSBA in 2017, but Andover High School was not accepted after its first application. 

"The case that we're making (in the latest application) is that the issues at the building are serious enough, and the crowding is getting more severe," said Berman. "We have new enrollment projections from this last October that show the enrollment could go as high as 2,000 students within the next 20 years. It's really important we do this as soon as possible."

Berman also said there are mechanical systems and window systems at the high school that need upgrading and are becoming more urgent, such as the 24-year-old boilers that have a useful life of about 25 years.

The community has also supported moving forward with both projects, understanding the need for improved academic environments to further improve the quality of education.

Berman noted that the second statement submitted points out several projects that are coming off the debt schedule list for the town, which were not included in the initial statement. High Plain Middle School and Wood Hill Elementary School will come off the debt schedule around the year 2022, as well as the Public Safety Center.

"In essence, it will become more affordable," he said.

Application to the MSBA and the process for subsequent approval is a lengthy one. Berman said he hopes to hear in December if the high school has been accepted, but even if the school is accepted by the MSBA, he said it is still a five to six year process.

"They want to make sure the buildings that are built last at least 50 years," he said. "They want to make sure the building is built right, so they actually have some say in the architect."

The West Elementary School project, which was accepted into the second phase of the MSBA in December, is now scheduled to undergo a feasibility study. At a School Committee meeting in December, Berman said he imagines the design phase will be about an 18-month period.

The next phase at the elementary school will help create a design and assign a project manager for the project. The feasibility study will recommend a preferred solution to fix the needs of West Elementary, whether that be a building renovation or a total replacement, which would be considered by the community at a Town Meeting in the future.

The MSBA will cover a chunk of the costs, but the town will have to seek a debt exclusion vote from residents for the remainder, which Berman said will likely occur at May 2020 Town Meeting at the earliest.

A debt exclusion will increase the average taxpayer bill for the next 20 to 30 years, said Berman. In regards to how much the residential and commercial tax bill would increase, Berman said "it's unclear."

"We wouldn't have any cost estimate at this point because we don't know the cost of project," he said. "We really wouldn't have any idea until a year from now."

Berman said the MSBA provided a reimbursement rate of 40.5 percent for the feasibility study, which comes out to $1.2 million. The cost of the feasibility study needs to be approved at the upcoming town meeting.




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