EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

January 31, 2013

$225k study will quantify, answer space woes

By Dustin Luca

---- — ANDOVER — A $225,000 request at Town Meeting seeks to pave the way for the town to resolve school overcrowding, with the town’s high school already overloaded and elementary schools not far from it.

The request, known formally as the “School Facility Space Needs Study” in the annual Town Meeting warrant, will study space woes throughout the town’s elementary school, high school and preschool populations, according to school Superintendent Marinel McGrath.

The article will operate in a three-fold manner, McGrath said. First, it will study space use at the high school and create a conceptual design for short- and long-term space options to create additional classrooms.

Then, the money will be used to address the need for an Early Childhood Center (ECC) to house all of the town’s pre-kindergarten students. Currently, most of the town’s pre-K children are at Shawsheen School, which will close soon after the completion of the Bancroft Elementary School project.

Lastly, the money will be used to study possibilities for elementary school expansion as student enrollment is expected to increase throughout the district.

Even with the new Bancroft Elementary School expected to take on 200 more students than the current building, using current data, “the elementary population following the opening of the new Bancroft School will be at 100 percent capacity,” McGrath said.

But in a way, there’s a greater need at Andover High School. There, the overcrowding is a problem today, not one that’s the horizon.

“Student enrollment across the district has increased over the past 10 years, and overcrowding at Andover High School is a major concern,” McGrath said.

The building was built for around 1,600 students. Today, it has 1,816 enrollments — and that number is expected to climb gradually, as previous projections have shown.

“We have terrific overcrowding in the classes,” Principal Chris Lord said. “Our number one goal in the next year is personalization, and we’re going to be reducing class sizes. We’re going to be struggling to find places to put students and a teacher.”

As it stands, only one classroom is empty and available every day — and it’s only for one period. For the other three periods each day, every classroom is spoken for.

The school is trying new things to lighten its load in the classroom. One major effort is to offer more physical education elective classes, with the hopes that students take those instead of academic classes. This would reduce class sizes, according to Lord.

“If there’s room in the gym, and the yoga room, those spaces are empty,” Lord said. “We can’t put chairs in there, but if kids were taking PE, that would be taking them out of the academic settings.”

Long-term solutions to the problem include building classrooms inside currently open space like the main foyer, field house and the amphitheater area outside of the school’s cafeteria, according to McGrath.

The school is also having problems in the lunch room, where 600 students eat lunch in a space designed for only 450, according to Lord. Because of that, lines to grab food are long and some students only have a few minutes to eat once they get in line, get and pay for their food, and find a place to sit.

Starting Tuesday, the first day of the second semester, breaks between the school’s three lunch periods will be eliminated in favor of adding a fourth lunch period.

“We’re going to pilot it and make it work here, just to see if we can get kids a lunch in a reasonable timeframe,” he said.

For more Andover news, follow @DustinLucaET on Twitter. For feedback or story-related inquiries, email dluca@eagletribune.com.