To paraphrase former Pres. Gerald Ford: Andover’s long, Town Yard nightmare is over.
Well, not quite.
After decades of talk, scores of votes, Town Meeting turmoil and Town Hall tumult, the residents have spoken. And they apparently want a new town yard to be built on Campanelli Drive.
Certainly the stakes aren’t as high as the Constitutional catastrophe that was facing America after the fall of Richard M. Nixon, but for Andover, it’s a pretty big deal.
With the retirement of former Town Manager Reginald ‘Buzz’ Stapczynski last year, a new era was ushered into town with the hiring of young, energetic Andrew Flanagan. Working with a (mostly) supportive Board of Selectmen, Flanagan and his staff put together a plan that is most of the way there.
First, Town Meeting voters had to agree to spend $2.25 million from free cash to buy 15 acres off Campanelli Drive that is designated as the location of a new town yard.
Second, voters had to agree to spend $900,000 to design the complex, with the funding coming from taxation, as well as spending another $900,000 in taxes to pay off the first year of loans for the project.
Finally, Town Meeting voters were asked to allow the town to petition the Legislature for home rule authority to place money from the sale of the existing town yard on Lewis Street into an account specifically to be used for the new town yard complex. The idea being to further lessen the pressure on taxpayers.
The reason the nightmare is not quite over is that several major sticking points remain. First, the town has to design a town yard that costs about $17 million. Anything over that will be difficult for Flanagan and the selectmen to sell. And sell they must: At a special Town Meeting tentatively scheduled for later in the year, after the design is done and cost figures are in.
At a Board of Selectmen’s meeting a year or more ago, a debate ensued over how much a new town yard “should” cost, based on what taxpayers could stomach. Stapczynski had offered up plans ranging from $20 million to $50 million or more. Selectmen said, simply, “No! Too much!” They wanted a town yard in the $15 million range. Public Works chief Chris Cronin balked at the amount, as did Stapczynski. The result was that the plan for a new town yard kind of languished in no-man’s land. There was no leadership on the issue for a year or so because it seemed that nobody could agree on how to pay for it.
Well, Flanagan, his staff and selectmen have figured out a way to at least get the ball rolling. However, they still need a special town meeting vote to approve the final cost.
If the cost comes in at $17 million, taxpayers will be happy and it will likely sail through town meeting. What if the cost is $18 million? Or $25 million? Or even $50 million as in years past? Will Flanagan and Selectmen still go to a special town meeting, knowing the cost is simply too high? Or will they come up with another way to pay for it?
The other question that comes up frequently is about the sale of the old town yard property. How much is the town going to get for that piece of property? All that’s really being sold there is a good location. The buildings are no good, so they have to be demolished. The land itself is said to be contaminated from years of heavy use by trucks and public works equipment and underground fuel tanks. So any buyer will have his or her hands full. How much is the land really worth? It’s about 3 acres of industrial land in a residential area, so a ballpark guess would have to be around $500,000.
Well, that’s something, but it’s really a drop in the bucket for a $17 million (at minimum) new town yard.
The devil, it is said, is in the details. Taxpayers would be wise to pay attention to those and more details going forward. The three items voted on Monday night are pennies in comparison to the potential actual cost of a major public works facility. But at least it’s a start and town officials are rightfully happy about that.