TOWNSEND -- The North Middlesex Regional High School Building Committee passed a series of small cost-saving measures Monday night.
Committee members made about $600,000 in cuts in the $89.5 million project, including a reduction in parking spaces, landscaping and wood paneling, and proposed several other reductions.
"I continue to look at our mission statement to put the right building in front of voters that meets the needs of our voters but also is something that the town will support, and I keep going back to our budget," said committee Chairman Rob Templeton. "I think that number has to be lower. We've done so much due diligence, but I want to have a project that the towns will support,"
Committee member Heidi Messing said that by reducing the budget, the proposal could receive wider support from voters in member towns Ashby, Pepperell and Townsend when it goes before voters in a Special Town Meeting next spring.
"The more we reduce this budget, the better chance that people on the fence in our communities are going to support it," Messing said.
Committee members Messing, Sue Lisio and Stephen Themelis each came with a list of proposed cuts that could help bring down costs.
Lisio suggested cutting the number of parking spaces, reducing the size of the maintenance facility and reducing the square footage in general.
The maintenance facility is being considered as an alternate that would have to be approved by voters in a separate warrant article at Special Town Meeting.
Members voted in favor of reducing the size of the maintenance facility, eliminating an office and reducing the size of workshops for electrical, plumbing and wood work. Cuts would reduce the cost of the facility from $1.2 million to about $800,000.
But cutting the square footage of the school as a whole was rejected by the committee, due to concerns that it would affect students.
"You can always cut square footage, but we would be cutting educational programs for our students. I would rather give up something else that doesn't affect our teaching or learning," Superintendent of Schools Joan Landers said.
Themelis proposed cutting the amount spent on trees and wood paneling in the building, saying they were unnecessary costs. Members voted to cut $150,000 from the combined budgets of the two items, which totaled about $385,000. Where exactly the cuts will be made was left up to the design team.
Lisio said eliminating aesthetic details altogether would have a bigger effect than anticipated.
"As much as we think those touches don't matter to the kids, they truly do in terms of brightening their outlook on the educational programs," Lisio said.
Messing's proposals included cutting the costs of the building's exterior signs, partitions between classrooms and the auditorium's lighting system.
Committee members voted to ask the design team to reduce $250,000 as a result of Messing's suggestions, allowing them to choose where to make cuts.
Building Committee member Gary Shepherd recommended cutting escalation costs from 4 percent to 3 percent, pending Massachusetts School Building Authority approval, which the committee unanimously approved.
Members also voted to make another project alternate, an expanded gym, dependent on whether there is any extra money in the budget after the project goes out to bid, and to make improvements to the track and other athletic upgrades an alternate rather than be a part of the project's base budget.
Even if voters approve the gym expansion and athletic-upgrades alternates, they would not go forward unless there is money available.
Some members of the committee questioned whether cutting so much at this point would undermine the project's ultimate goal.
"I want to make sure we have an adequate facility to give students the resources and the building they need to compete on a local, national and global level," said Shepherd. "There comes a point in time when we're going to cut so much that it's not going to be worth doing because we leave so much out."