ANDOVER — The town is interested in buying an 8-acre parcel along the Merrimack River that's home to the Phillips Academy boathouse.
The private school's crew program has been based there since 1983. But plans to move the program to a former truck dealership on Route 110 in Methuen are underway, with the new boathouse expected to open by the fall season, academy officials said.
The purchase of the property behind the Greater Lawrence Technical School at 57 River Road will allow the town to expand the adjacent conservation land, offer recreation options and build a public safety boat ramp, according to Bob Douglas, the town's conservation director.
"It is a once in a lifetime opportunity," Douglas said. "Land along a major river is generally impossible to get."
Douglas said the land is a "real treasure chest" that could allow the town to expand sailing and kayaking programs, which are now offered at Pomps Pond, Douglas said.
The town is beginning talks with Phillips Academy officials about the land and no price estimate has been released, he said. Such a purchase will require a Town Meeting vote.
The town may tap two state Department of Conservation and Recreation grants to help turn it into a recreation area, Douglas said.
Phillips Academy officials are interested in selling the land, with one of the next steps being an appraisal. There are other interested buyers in addition to the town, according to Tracy Sweet, an academy spokeswoman.
Fire Chief Michael Mansfield said the town has the longest stretch of the Merrimack River's shoreline in the Merrimack Valley — but no accessibility to the river. Town emergency crews must launch from Lawrence or Methuen, which drastically increases response times, the chief said. Fire officials can call on mutual aid, but other communities aren't always available, he said.
Mansfield said the project is high on his department's priority list and the property would work well.
"To be able to have access to the river and to launch our own boats, would drastically reduce response times," he said.
Phillips Academy started to renovate the 14,000 square-foot truck dealership in March. The renovated property in Methuen will include a reception area, coaches offices, locker rooms, storage for the boats, repair shop and parking, said John Galanis, a Phillips Academy project manager.
More than $5.6 million has been raised toward a $6.5 million goal, according to academy.
The truck dealership is right off the street. These days, crew participants have to navigate a trail the leads behind the Greater Lawrence Technical School to their boathouse. Phillips Academy previously agreed to pay for an estimated $2 million in road and utility work to bring electricity and water to its Andover boathouse, but that work was not completed.
There are about 120 students who row crew on an annual basis, Sweet said.
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