By Jonathan Phelps
---- — ANDOVER — Due to increased construction costs, town officials fear the Bancroft Elementary School project could run up to $5 million over budget.
Right now, the project is already $2.7 million over with 60 percent of the construction bids being awarded, according to town officials.
Construction of the $44.7 million new school started this summer. About 15 percent of the building is complete.
Tom Deso, chairman of the School Building Committee, said bids have been coming in higher than expected due to the project being delayed by about a year over a lawsuit filed by two neighbors of the school.
He said the committee was originally hoping to go to bid in the middle of 2011, during a “stagnant construction market.”
“It was a very flat market in 2011,” Deso said. “I think we would have seen more competition, but we can’t prove that.”
Town officials stressed that the increased cost of the construction is a result of a tough bidding climate and not because anything was added to design of the school. About $3.5 million has already been taken out of the original design of the school through value engineering, Deso said.
“The situation we find ourselves in is no fault of our own,” Town Manager Reginald “Buzz” Stapczynski said, noting the delay because of the bidding and increased material costs.
Selectmen Chairman Paul Salafia said Town Meeting will likely be asked to approve more money to cover the additional costs to finish the building as proposed.
“It is an unfortunate situation,” Salafia said. “If we went to bid a year ago, the project would have likely been on or under budget.”
Deso said the committee is recommending bringing forward a Town Meeting article to ask for the additional money. Most of the discussion during the meeting Thursday revolved around whether or not a Special Town Meeting would be needed.
Salafia said selectmen will discuss the possibility of calling a Special Town Meeting on Monday night.
Deso said other options include stopping construction until the details are worked out or reconfigure the design of the school. Both would have negative effects including further increased cost and not having enough room to fit all the students, he said.
At the meeting, Deso noted other towns in the state are facing similar problems.
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 two neighbors appealed the Conservation Commission’s decision to approve the project in September 2011, claiming there would be adverse effects to their properties. The town ended up settling with the two neighbors in April.
If all goes to the plan the school will open in the fall of 2014, Deso said.