By Jonathan Phelps firstname.lastname@example.org
---- — ANDOVER — To the noise of children playing at recess and construction vehicles rumbling in the background, a group gathered outside the Bancroft Elementary School yesterday afternoon to officially mark the construction of the new $44 million school.
“The years of planning and hard work are coming to fruition and it’s exciting,” said Karen Vigurs-Stack, a parent of two children at the school. If all goes to plan, her third-grader will be one of the first students in the new building, she said.
Yesterday’s noontime ceremony was attended by teachers, parents, several students and many town and state officials, including state Treasurer Steven Grossman. The school’s chorus sang a rendition of the pledge of allegiance and the “Bancroft Song.”
A debt-exclusion override to pay for the new school was approved by residents in January 2011 after voters overwhelmingly supported the project at Special Town Meeting the month before.
While the total cost of the building is $44.7 million, the state will reimburse the town $16.8 million of that cost, lowering Andover’s share to about $27.9 million.
The new two- and three-story school is expected to hold 680 students. The building will replace the current wood-frame school built in 1969, which has well-documented structural problems.
The project was put on hold for most of the past year because of a lawsuit over the Conservation Commission’s decision to approve the project. The town ended up settling with two abutters in April.
A new access road off West Knoll Road was constructed this summer and construction workers are currently pouring the foundation of the building.
Several first-grade students were seen peering through a fence watching the construction during the ceremony. Earlier in the day, all 484 students took part in an assembly inside the gym — wearing yellow plastic hardhats — before moving outside where each student took a turn using toy shovels to symbolically move dirt into a backhoe.
During both ceremonies, Town Manager Reginald “Buzz” Stapczynski shared the history of the building, including the significance of its bell tower and an award the building received in 1970 from the American institute for Architecture.
School Superintendent Marinel McGrath thanked everyone who helped make the new building possible.
“As superintendent I can tell you that one thing that I know above all else, these materials may build a building but it is the community of people within and around it that will make this a school where children are inspired to learn,” she said.
Tom Deso, chairman of the School Building Committee, said the process of replacing the school started in 2006, when it was determined that the school was the town’s top building need.
“Bancroft is a special school and the Bancroft spirit is unique. I am sure that spirit will travel the short distance to the new building,” Deso said. “We have more work ahead of us but we do it knowing Andover values education and we have a great team working with us.”
Lisa Grecoe, the school’s PTO president, said yesterday was a big day for the school community and it is exciting to finally see construction start.
“There is excitement over having a new school although there is some sadness to see a school with such character as Bancroft left behind,” she said of the school designed to look like a castle.
Once the new building is complete, the current school will be torn down. The building is expected to open in September 2014.