EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

February 22, 2013

Selectmen consider tax deal for Windham institute

By John Toole

---- — WINDHAM — A proposed tax abatement deal for a developing regional science and math institute will go before selectmen Monday night.

Town Assessor Rex Norman will ask selectmen to abate nearly $43,000 in taxes, with interest, which North Andover-based El Hefni Technical Training Foundation paid Windham last year.

Meanwhile, the foundation has submitted revised plans for a facility to house its programs. Community Development Director Laura Scott said the Planning Board could see those plans as soon as March 6.

The charitable foundation, with $60 million in assets, was established in the 1990s by Ibrahim El-Hefni, founder of Microwave Engineering Corp., to provide medical and educational support to people.

The foundation has aided Lawrence General Hospital, the Lahey Clinic, Lawrence Family Charter School and Notre Dame High School in Lawrence.

El-Hefni died in 2005, but the foundation’s work continues. His daughter Suzanne Wright is a trustee.

Since 2011, the foundation has worked to develop a regional science and math institute on 245 acres off Gov. Dinsmore Road. Three parcels are involved in the tax case with a total valuation of $3.8 million.

The foundation will offer ecology-related science enrichment classes for students in all grade levels in Massachusetts and New Hampshire. It has partnered with Merrimack College and Northern Essex Community College on field trips for future teachers and hosted some elementary school groups.

Wetlands setback requirements have forced the foundation to revise the location of its building, initially envisioned at 14,600 square feet, near Roulston Road.

The foundation had requested property tax abatement because of its educational and nonprofit status. Norman initially denied the request, but the foundation appealed.

The assessor, in consultation with Town Administrator David Sullivan and town attorney Bernie Campbell, has reached an agreement with the foundation after further review.

“In El-Hefni’s case, they have proven they are a qualifying non-profit and educational entity,” Norman said.

The only question was the extent of the property use, he said.

The foundation has provided the town with evidence the property was being used for educational purposes, Norman said.

The institute is already moving forward, even without walls.

Kristina Ellis is serving as education director for the institute.

“We have a ton of field trips scheduled for March,” Wright said yesterday. “We have also hired a team of four Notre Dame High School interns to work with Kristina.”