EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

January 31, 2013

Officials weighing school use during vacation

By Dustin Luca

---- — ANDOVER — Officials are working to open up school facilities to outside use during school vacation periods, but a 2009 policy change is making it difficult.

As part of Town Manager Reginald “Buzz” Stapczynski’s goals for the current year, officials must develop a policy “that enables the efficient and effective use of buildings and facilities” beyond their intended purposes when not being used due to vacations.

One way to accomplish that is to open up one of the town’s school buildings during April vacation to the town’s Department of Community Services.

It is something Kim Stamas, DCS recreation coordinator, has had her sights on for a while.

“This is huge with us and with the residents,” Stamas said. “We used to always offer camps during every vacation. Then, years ago, the Plant and Facilities director had this new energy plan, and his plan was to close every school during vacation except for the high school.”

That policy change is proving to be a challenge for all parties involved today. Under the policy, school facilities would be closed down during such vacation periods to save on energy and heating costs, according to Stapczynski.

“We’d do basketball, baseball, lacrosse, whatever sport was within the season,” Stamas said. “That completely eliminated any programs we could do during the vacations.”

Sometime in the coming weeks, officials will sit down, review the policy and see if a new proposal could come forward to benefit the town’s energy needs and the programmatic needs of both the Department of Community Services and Andover Youth Services. The earliest something could be tested is during April vacation, scheduled for April 15 through 19.

“I want to have a good discussion of it,” Stapczynski said.

With the ongoing work toward a new youth center in town, Stapczynski said that if a school facility were to be opened up for DCS use, that wouldn’t change when the youth center comes online.

“There’s always going to be a need for schools,” he said. “What we’re talking about is the youth center with middle school aged programs. DCS runs it for younger children.”

If he could implement what he considered to be the perfect policy, Stapczynski said it would be “one set of fields and one associated school with gymnasiums, so we could have a backup in the event of a storm.”

Stamas said she is aiming for an identical proposal.

With access to a school, “if we could be on the field, we would do both inside and outside,” she said. “Vacation week is going to be iffy because you don’t know what the field conditions are going to be like. But this has been going on for years. We’ve been screaming from the rooftops for years, asking to get into the schools during vacation.”

Regardless of what officials decide, something must come forward, according to Selectwoman Mary Lyman.

For her, parents have continually called for a school to open to additional programs to give them a child care opportunity during vacation weeks. But others are also concerned about schools being open during summer vacation, when safety becomes part of the equation.

“During the summer, when there’s thunder and lightning and the kiddos are outside, the senior custodians need to understand that the kids, they need access to the schools,” she said. “We need to develop a working understanding to work cooperatively.”

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