By Dustin Luca
---- — ANDOVER — Officials are calling a Special Town Meeting in February to fill a $5 million budget gap for building a new Bancroft Elementary School.
How the money will be raised and exactly how much will be needed hasn’t been determined, but voters will gather on Feb. 11, 2013 to either save the project or send it down a darker path.
“There is a time factor here. The longer we wait, the more the project’s held out, it costs us more money,” Selectman Alex Vispoli said at a meeting Monday night. “To me, it sounds like the right thing to do is call a special.”
The school was originally expected to cost $44.7 million when voters supported it at 2010 Special Town Meeting and in 2011 with an affirming debt exemption ballot vote.
Contract bidding for the project was then delayed for a year as it faced appeals and became the subject of court litigation over light, noise and storm water drainage coming from the project.
As construction costs increased, the year’s delay has so far sent the project around $2.7 million over-budget after awarding around 60 percent of the project’s bids. When fully awarded, the entire project is expected to fall around $5 million out of target.
While residents will vote on the issue in February, a number of questions remain to be answered. One includes how much money the town will attempt to raise.
“We’re not sure of the number right now,” School Building Committee Chairman Tom Deso said. “We’re working on it, and we’re expecting to have the number for sure by the end of January.”
Officials also don’t know how they’ll generate the money. Selectmen discussion on Monday suggested the money could be raised by taxation, which may require an initial vote and follow-up ballot question on debt exemption during the town’s March 2013 elections.
Another option would be to adjust currently planned spending to take the money from other areas of the budget, which would eliminate the need to raise extra money but cause other plans in town to slow down.
“We have to do this in two pieces. The first piece is [calling the meeting],” Paul Salafia, Board of Selectmen chairman, said. “We have a hole in the ground, and we’ve put a lot of money into it.”
Roughly $8 million has been spent on the school so far. By the time February rolls around, around $11 million will have been spent to build the school, according to officials.
Should the town say no to providing additional money to the project, what would come next is less known.
The Massachusetts School Building Authority has agreed to cover 44 percent of the building’s construction costs, reducing the town’s share of the bill to $27.9 million. If the project falls outside of its scope or the terms the town agreed to from the beginning, however, the money could be gone.
Selectman Brian Major suggested raising an additional $5 million to cover the project could actually change the scope, if “scope” is defined as time, cost and resources used on the project.
“We’re looking at a situation where we’re going to increase the amount that the citizens of Andover need to pay for this project by 20 percent,” Major said. “That’s, in my eyes, a significant change in scope.”