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ANDOVER

Plan to rebuild school advances

Voters to decide on $28m tax hike

By Katheleen Conti
Globe Staff / December 9, 2010

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Replacement of the old Bancroft Elementary School cleared its first hurdle among Andover Town Meeting voters, who must now approve a temporary $28 million property tax increase to fund the project.

Voters overwhelmingly approved plans for a $44.7 million replacement to the 41-year-old school at a Special Town Meeting Monday night, clearing the way for a Jan. 25 special town election to decide on the temporary tax increase, also known as a debt-exclusion override. To pass, the project required a two-thirds vote from the more than 800 residents in attendance.

The Massachusetts School Building Authority agreed to reimburse the town $16.8 million for the project. If a 20-year, $28 million bond with an average interest rate of 4 percent is approved next month, the owner of an average single-family home valued at $529,775 would pay an additional $179 in property taxes the first year, according to the Finance Committee. By year four, the ad ditional tax would be $167, and it would gradually decrease until year 20.

Serious structural problems at the Bancroft School, which have been festering since the late 1970s, prompted plans for its replacement. Over the past five years the town has spent about $2 million on repairs to stabilize the building, said Mark B. Johnson, chairman of Andover’s School Building Committee.

“Due to the severity of the structural problems, the building has been inspected monthly,’’ Johnson said. “Bancroft is at the end of its structural life.’’

The proposed 106,486-square-foot new Bancroft school would house 680 kindergarten through fifth-grade students, including students from the Shawsheen Elementary School, which would also be shut down. The Shawsheen and Bancroft buildings are the most expensive to maintain, Johnson said. By combining Shawsheen’s population into the new Bancroft project, the town would avoid paying an estimated $7 million in repairs to the Shawsheen building.

“We also know that economic times are difficult, but we also believe that the project makes financial sense,’’ Johnson said. “It allows us to replace Bancroft School [and] positions us to be able to close Shawsheen School.’’

Some residents expressed concern over the project’s price tag, particularly during tough economic times.

“This school is going to cost $447 per square foot. That’s an exorbitant cost,’’ said Tom Garesche, a West Knoll Road resident. “I think the Bancroft School is a poor design and it needs to be replaced, but this is not the plan.’’

Mary Carbone, a Cyr Circle resident, said that although she doesn’t have children in the school system or live in the area of the proposed school, “I do pay taxes in the town and it’s getting harder and harder to pay taxes in this community.’’

Tim Vaill, who lives on Bancroft Road, expressed concern about increased traffic at the current location, but added that in order to grow the town’s tax base, the town must attract families.

“And I think in order to do that we have to invest in the infrastructure of the town. . . . So the timing is exactly right for that purpose,’’ Vaill said. “It’s tough to spend the money anytime, but in terms of trying to create the kind of town that you and I all want for our kids, this is the time to do this project.’’

Christa DiNapoli, who has a child at Bancroft School, said the town must move quickly to get the students out of a school building being held together by temporary fixes.

“The structural work that was done at the school in 2007 was a five-year fix,’’ she said. “On the current timetable, we’re cutting it close.’’

The proposal calls for the new building to be located directly north of the existing building at 15 Bancroft Road, said Annie Gilbert, a member of the School Committee and the School Building Committee. If the funds are authorized next month, construction could get started in the summer, and completed by the summer of 2013. The current building would then be demolished and turned into soccer fields and parking, Gilbert said.

Katheleen Conti can be reached at kconti@globe.com.