Is an enrollment of 925 the right projection for West Elementary?

In 2013, the Town of Andover commissioned Barry Bluestone, Director of the Dukakis Center for Urban and Regional Planning at Northeastern University, to perform a demographic and economic analysis of Andover to illuminate future trends. Bluestone found that Andover was growing at a faster rate than other Greater Boston communities, in general, and forecast significantly more growth between 2020 and 2030. He also projected the aging of Andover’s population so that during that decade the number of Andover residents in their 70s would grow by 99.4% and the number in their 80s would grow by 61.0%. Over the coming decades, these individuals likely would downsize from larger single-family homes to other types of residences. He pointed out that “aging Boomers may wish to ‘age in place’ but not in their current homes” and projected that this phenomenon would open up a significant number of homes to new and younger families moving into Andover.

Working from the 2010 census, Cropper GIS conducted an analysis of householders’ ages in each of Andover’s elementary school attendance areas. The study found that, of the five schools, West Elementary School’s attendance area had the highest proportion of householders (27.7%) ages 65 years and older, while also having the lowest proportion of householders (45.1%) between the ages of 35 and 54. These findings mean that West Elementary is likely to see the most significant increase in enrollment as older individuals downsize.

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Based on Bluestone’s analysis, coupled with significant home and apartment construction in Andover over the past decade, the school district pursued three demographic forecasts. MGT of America projected elementary K-5 student population reaching 3,025 within the next decade. A second analysis, by Cropper GIS, projected elementary enrollment reaching approximately 2,800. The third analysis, by MSBA, provided a ten-year projection averaging 2,939. The total K-5 capacity of Andover’s elementary schools as assessed in 2016 was 2,718, although that figure has since been reduced due to the conversion of space for programs for English language learners and students with special needs. None of the population analyses considered the projected increase in kindergarten enrollment once tuition for full-day kindergarten is eliminated, which will take place in 2020-21. Given that both the South Elementary and Sanborn Elementary facilities will last for several more decades and are already near or above capacity, West Elementary will need to be of sufficient size to absorb future enrollment increases throughout the district.

MSBA, which tends to be conservative in its enrollment projections, authorized West Elementary to be built for 925 students in order to address enrollment growth over the coming decade, understanding that the district would need to redraw elementary school attendance areas to address current and projected overcrowding at several of the schools. Although economic trends and the coronavirus pandemic have delayed the downsizing by senior citizens and the resulting movement of new families into the community, the rapid growth of apartment complexes and home construction in Andover combined with future downsizing trends will necessitate building a school of sufficient size to address future enrollment needs for a minimum of twenty to thirty years.

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1. What is the purpose of the West Elementary project?
2. What is the MSBA?
3. What process was followed to identify West Elementary for this project?
4. What factors were considered in deciding whether to seek an addition/renovation or new construction?
5. Why does West El need a new or renovated building?
6. What is the history of the current West Elementary facility?
7. Is an enrollment of 925 the right projection for West Elementary?
8. What is the extent of the overcrowding at the current facility?
9. What is the scope of the proposed project?
10. Why is the Shawsheen preschool being considered as part of this project?
11. How are Andover school buildings maintained?
12. Will the current West Elementary continue to be maintained during construction of the new West Elementary/Pre-K facility?
13. What is Shawsheen’s current enrollment and what is the capacity of the proposed preschool wing?
14. What is West’s current enrollment and what is the capacity of the proposed elementary school?
15. Will this project involve any redistricting of elementary student attendance areas?
16. What is the physical status of Andover’s other elementary schools?
17. How will a new West Elementary facility improve the program that is offered to the K-5 students at West?
18. How will a new special education preschool wing improve the program and services that are offered to the PreK students?
19. If approved, what will the new West Elementary look like?
20. Where will the new West Elementary be located?
21. Have any issues been sticking points in our negotiations with MSBA?
22. What will happen to the existing West El facility?
23. What will happen to the existing Shawsheen facility if its students are moved to the West Elementary site?
24. How will the construction process affect students’ learning environment?
25. What will be the impact on the staff of the current West and Shawsheen facilities?
26. What is the timeline for the project?
27. How much will this project cost?
28. How will this project be funded?
29. How does the town pay for facility construction projects?
30. What is a debt exclusion?
31. What is the potential impact of this school project on my real estate taxes?
32. What happens if Town Meeting does not approve the funds necessary for Andover’s portion of the costs?
33. What happens if the town voters do not pass the requested debt exclusion?
34. Why is the cost of this project so much more than when we built Bancroft?
35. What is Andover’s track record for past school construction being on or under budget?
36. I have no children who attend Andover Public Schools. How will this project benefit me and the community?
37. Doesn’t Andover also need a new high school?
38. Who are the project contractors?
39. Who serves on the West Elementary School Building Committee?
40. How can I stay informed?
41. How can I become involved?