Shawsheen has long been identified as a structure beyond its useful life and an expensive building to operate. Attempts to move Shawsheen PK-3 classrooms to Bancroft as part of that building project were only partially successful; grades K-3 moved but the special education preschool program remained at Shawsheen. Major issues with the Shawsheen facility and location are as follows.
Opened in 1923 to grades 1 through 7, the Shawsheen School now houses only the district’s PreK special education programs, particularly for students with severe autism, developmental delays, and other significant disabilities. The school does not share a campus with any other Andover school, contributing to a sense of isolation for its relatively small staff and student population. The aging building, designed for a much different educational era, places significant limitations on service delivery and also presents safety concerns. The facility is situated on a hill and has entrances at multiple levels along the hill. Although outwardly a three-story structure, the building is internally divided into five separate levels with limited accessibility between levels. There is no one place that all five levels intersect, making the use of an elevator unfeasible. The one handicap ramp leading into the facility is not code compliant; it leads to the building’s only chair lift, which itself enables access to only two of the five levels. The restrooms and cafeteria are on different levels; although these areas have been renovated in an effort to address student needs, they remain largely inadequate. Some stairwells are small, particularly those leading to some restrooms, making it difficult for adults to provide hands-on assistance as needed on the stairs. In the nurse’s clinic, all medical treatment must be carried out in a single open area; the bathroom is not handicap accessible and is not large enough for medical assistance to be provided without compromising the student’s privacy. Some facets of best-practice instruction and therapy are limited by the old design of the Shawsheen structure; for example, given the high ceilings, there is not a safe place to mount a ceiling beam for suspending a swing for sensory therapy. Areas of the building have been divided to support programming; for example, what was once the auditorium is now divided into a music room, library, and classrooms with some of these spaces accessible only by stairs. Inordinate amounts of time that would otherwise be devoted to instructional activities must instead be spent assisting students to move among the multiple levels, often with only one child at a time able to use the lone chairlift. The multiple levels of the building also compromise egress in the event of a fire or other emergency. These accessibility issues are in part responsible for out-of-district placements that currently cost Andover taxpayers more than $400,000 per year.
Although the foundation and exterior structure of this 100-year-old building are solid, building systems are highly inefficient and at the end of their useful life. The age of the building systems makes it difficult to maintain a safe and healthy temperature in the school. In the winter, there are areas that remain very cold and during a heat wave the school can become oppressively hot. The building’s high ceilings preclude proper cooling from portable units, and at times the school has been closed due to excessive heat. The inability to control classroom temperatures is a serious issue because it hinders the use of Shawsheen for housing the extended school year services that are mandated for most young children with identified educational disabilities. Finally, despite its reputation as an excellent PreK program, Shawsheen is not eligible to apply for National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) accreditation status because of the health and accessibility issues within the building.
- EDUCATION AND RELATED NEEDS: The Shawsheen facility was constructed in 1923. This outdated building is inadequate to serve the education and related needs of its preschool student population, most of whom have been identified as having significant special needs.
- ACCESSIBILITY: The school is split into five levels with no elevator, only one chairlift between two floors, and an access ramp that is not currently code compliant. The restrooms and cafeteria are on different levels, adding to problems with accessibility for a population that consists primarily of students with special needs.
- MAINTENANCE COSTS: Shawsheen serves a small number of students. In terms of maintenance costs, it is not efficient for the district and town to operate this separate building and site. The MGT report in 2016 rated the Shawsheen building as “poor” (scoring 63 out of 100).
- HEALTH: In addition, components of the facility are showing the effects of age. One of Shawsheen’s drinking fountains was discovered in 2017 to be allowing excess levels of copper to enter the water. To protect the health of students and staff, the fountain was quickly removed and the pipe was capped.
- LEAST RESTRICTIVE ENVIRONMENT: Shawsheen’s physical separation from the rest of the district contributes to a sense of isolation. It offers a less than optimal means of meeting the federal requirement regarding least restrictive environment, which mandates that preschool students with special needs be afforded the opportunity to learn with nondisabled peers.