ANDOVER — Phillips Academy has doled out $4.2 million to buy adjacent property with the goal of expanding its faculty housing. The site had been the focus of a protracted toxic sludge lawsuit
According to real estate transfer records, James Berberian has sold his 2-4 Bancroft Road property — the same land he says was tainted by town workers cleaning a water storage tank in 2010 — to the private school that abuts it.
“They’ve wanted it for years,” Berberian said last week, referring to Phillips “They want to use it for faculty housing.”
Phillips’ Head of School John Palfrey confirmed the sale.
“Given the proximity to campus, the academy has long had an interest in the property,” he said. “We were actually approached by the previous owners, prior to it going on the market a few years back, but the timing wasn’t right at that time.”
Palfrey said the school waited until the legal dispute between Berberian and the town over the sludge disposal was settled before entering into serious talks about purchasing the property.
“Once a settlement with the town was reached, James Berberian and a small group of us at Phillips Academy engaged in discussions to determine whether a purchase-and-sale arrangement could make sense,” Palfrey said.
He added that the school conducted a “thorough environmental assessment” of Berberian’s property, which found “no issues of concern.”
“As for the future of the property, we plan to use the buildings for faculty housing,” he said. “Renovations are expected to begin in February 2015.”
According to online town assessor records, Berberian bought the property in 2001, paying $875,000 for the combined 2-4 Bancroft Road. Since then, he has made considerable improvements, including relocating the 1937 colonial house elsewhere on the site and building a second, 10-room colonial home that is assessed by the town at a little more than $1 million. The lots combined total 3.7 acres, with 2 Bancroft currently assessed at $535,300 and 4 Bancroft assessed at $1.6 million.
Berberian said he and his wife made a personal decision to sell the property because their children and a nephew who had been living with them have moved out. He said they plan on looking for a new residence elsewhere in Andover.
He added that the sale of the property has nothing to do with the four-year dispute between him and the town over the dumping of toxic sludge on his property.
Berberian’s case against the town began in November 2010 when Water Department workers were cleaning out a water storage tank near the Bancroft School. As they pumped the water out of the tank and into a truck, sludge that had accumulated on the bottom of the tank was also pumped out. That sludge spilled out of the truck and some of it ended up in a storm drain that flowed down Bancroft Road and ultimately into wetlands on Berberian’s property.
Berberian videotaped the dumping, which went on for three days as workers cleaned out the 6 million-gallon tank. When he tested the thick, black sludge that settled in the wetland, he found it was contaminated with arsenic and other heavy metals.
He sued in federal court because he claims the dumping of the muck into wetlands was a violation of the federal Clean Water Act.
After protracted negotiations, the town settled the claim by paying Berberian about $500,000, but with legal fees and other expenses, the case cost the town more than $1 million.
Throughout the legal battle, the Board of Selectmen met with Town Counsel Tom Urbelis in executive session dozens of times to discuss legal strategy. The town has refused to release those executive session minutes even though the case has been settled. The town claims that the case remains open as an enforcement action by the Department of Environmental Protection is pending.
Phillips breaks ground on $12M wellness center
Phillips Academy last week began the first phase of construction for its new Rebecca M. Sykes Wellness Center with the razing of Merrill House.
The two-level, 17,000-square-foot building will integrate and update the school’s health services under one roof, and better meet the community’s needs, which have outgrown the Isham Health Center, school officials say. The new wellness center will combine traditional medical services and psychological counseling with a variety of new programs, including personal health assessment, yoga and meditation.
Crews this month will begin installing utilities and drilling 19 geothermal wells, each more than 500 feet deep.
“The wells replace what would be a cooling tower to provide air conditioning in the summer,” project manager John Galanis says on the Phillips Academy website. “In the winter, they’ll heat the building, along with a backup boiler.
“Once the wells are in, then it’s on to the foundation in September, and structural steel in October and November.”
The $12 million project is expected to be completed by early 2016.