EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

January 11, 2014

Proposed charter school eyes sites

STEAM Studio pursuing north side of Andover for home

By Dustin Luca

---- — ANDOVER — Two multi-story buildings on the north side of Andover closest to Lawrence are being eyed as the potential home for the proposed STEAM Studio charter high school.

While the state’s decision on whether to award STEAM Studio a public charter is not due until next month, the team behind the proposed school has identified properties in Brickstone Square and Old River Road as possible homes.

David Birnbach, an Andover School Committee member who is leading the STEAM Studio proposal, announced the two locations in a letter yesterday to town Planning Director Paul Materazzi that was copied to Town Manager Buzz Stapczynski.

One location is the third floor of 100 Brickstone Square, a multi-story building in an office park community off Haverhill Street (Route 133) in Andover.

The other site is the second and third floors of River Place at I-93 on Old River Road.

Birnbach said in the letter his team will be starting negotiations with the building owners and intends to select one of the sites for the school, which, if approved, would open in August.

When reached yesterday, Birnbach said the charter school’s proponents are “not in a position to comment because we don’t know how (negotiations are) going to play out.”

In the letter, he said he wants to coordinate efforts to “ensure that we follow the proper protocols and steps to ensure that both locations adhere to the Planning Department’s rules and regulations for a school,” including building codes and other site requirements. He said he will also be reaching out to the Police and Fire Departments to meet all safety requirements.

The letter also identifies David Stephen, a designer with New Vista Designs based in Boston, as STEAM Studio’s architect and designer.

According to New Vista Designs’ website, Stephen played a critical role in leading the design of San Diego-based High Tech High charter school system in California. He served as the charter program’s curriculum coordinator from 2000 to 2002 and director of design from 2002 to 2006.

Brian Tisbert of Jones Lang LaSalle in Boston is listed as STEAM Studio’s real estate advisor.

STEAM Studio is one of about a half-dozen schools seeking a public charter from the state. The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education is expected to make a decision on the applications by the end of February.

According to the proposal, STEAM Studio would be built around STEM education — with a focus on science, technology, engineering and math, plus an added concentration on digital arts and design.

If awarded its charter, the school would open at the end of August with 100 to 115 freshmen from the area, although the majority of students are expected to come from Andover. The school population would continue to grow annually with the addition of a new freshmen class every year for the following three years, with total enrollment ultimately anticipated at a maximum of 450 students.

STEAM Studio has encountered some strong opposition from Andover Public Schools officials and some in the community, who have questioned the need for it. Others in town have argued the charter school would fill a gap in STEM education they say currently exists in town.